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Patrice Lawrence, winner of the inaugural Jhalak Children’s & Young Adult Prize for her rich YA novel, Eight Pieces of Silva (Hachette Children’s) recommends five books that influenced her development as a Black woman and a writer


The Fat Black Woman’s Poems by Grace Nicholls


Every book that has had a profound impact on me has been discovered by accident. My mother loves poetry, but it’s the poetry of the English Literature curriculum that formed the foundation of her colonial education in Trinidad. I love that poetry too – but I also grew up believing that poetry couldn’t be anything else. I found Grace’s anthology in a second hand bookshop in Brighton. It showed me that poetry could be something different – and that womanhood could be something different from the ill-fitting mould of young white womanhood that seemed to be all that was on offer to me.


Pig-Heart Boy by Malorie Blackman


Did I ever think that someone that looked like me could be the main character in a children’s book? I never thought it. I never thought about thinking it. It was beyond my point of reference. Children’s books were full of white children and written by white people, often women and usually dead. That was fact. (Though obviously not at the time of writing.) Pig-Heart Boy appeared in my life when I had just become a new mother so was feeling hyper-sensitive to the way that my child would experience the world. It was about a Black family that wasn’t from the US and wasn’t about gangs, racism or crime. It was about love and ethics and validated the importance of my own perspective. Until then, all the characters in my stories were white.


So Much by Trish Cooke illustrated by Helen Oxenbury


An early Amazon buy that algorithms threw unexpectedly in my direction. The words, the pictures – a snapshot of mid-1990s Caribbean fashion. The tramlines! The desert boots! The joyfulness of Black family love. More than twenty years after buying it, that book is still on our shelf.



Random by Debbie Tucker Green


A script of a play, so cheating? It’s definitely purchasable in book form. I have friends who are great at booking theatre trips and before this, I hadn’t heard about Debbie Tucker Green. It’s a one-woman play about Black working class woman whose teenage brother is killed by a knife. It’s a mistress-class in dialogue, rhythm and characterisation – saying so much with so little. It thoroughly changed the way I used dialogue in my books and gave me the confidence to celebrate the resonances of young people’s words.



Tell Me Your Secret by Dorothy Koomson


A Black woman from Brighton reading a thriller about Black women in Brighton? How many ways can I say ‘yes’ to this! I hate cultural snobbery across the board – classical music being superior to pop, art-house films superior to the Marvel Universe. (As if.) In my twenties, I filled myself full of literary fiction. This, I believed, was what writers were supposed to aspire to even though I’ve always loved crime and thrillers. Writing exemplary commercial fiction like pop music is a wonderful skill – you have to swivel around cliches while embracing the tropes that fans expect. It has to say something new while having a touch of the familiar. Dorothy is an absolute queen at this.


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Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, winner of the 2021 Jhalak Prize for her powerful novel The First Woman (OneWorld) recommends some of her favourite books:


Maru by Bessie Head:


This goes back to my younger days. Luckily, it was recommended rather than a taught classroom text – nothing destroyed the joy of reading like studying a book for literature back then. Maru was my first novel by Bessie Head and after reading it I went and bought the rest of her novels. The writing style in Maru is deceptively simple – it’s short and precise – but I think that just added to the constant surprise and the sense of ambush at the ending, leaving my heart pounding at the end. I carried on writing Maru’s future long after I had finished the book. For all these reasons, it is a book I keep going back to. I think it is still hiding something from me. As an author, this is where I learnt that readers create the story as they go along. It’s important to leave gaps, to give the reader space to create alongside you.


Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga:


Again, this one is from my high school days. I borrowed it from a friend. I remember when I read the opening line: my jaw just dropped. Good African girls did not say, ‘I was not sorry when my brother died’. Such sacrilege was tantamount to wishing for the demise of a sibling. This must have been in 1988 or 1989 and such wickedness, even literary, had not crossed my path. I remember looking around and wondering who had ‘heard’ me read it. Of course, by the end of the novel I was celebrating Nhamo’s death too.


I had a similar reaction to Reni Eddo-Lodge’s title, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. The first time I saw it I thought, ‘tell me she did not write that out loud!’ because those were things we said behind closed doors. Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions taught me boldness, it taught me audacity. After that, nothing was unsayable for me.


An American Marriage by Tayari Jones:

Novels like this push a reader into expecting and demanding more from a book. Novels like this make an author wonder: ‘What am I doing being an author if I cannot write like this?’ After reading it I thought, ‘If I am going to be read by someone who’s read this, then I better up my game!’ It is the book I have most recommended to people. Tayari Jones understands the reader, she gives them more than they expect. And, oh boy – the language, the structure, the syntax – everything sings in harmony, there’s not a note out of place.



Lives of Great Men by Chike Frankie Edozien

This was the first memoir I read by a middle class, Nigerian gay man privileged enough to move to New York and be himself. It is about being a son, a journalist, a fighter and an African man in America. Chike opened my eyes to how the queer world covertly coexists alongside the heterosexual one. He lays bare the extent of Africa’s loss to the West, in terms of skills, expertise, talent and entrepreneurship, that results from the rejection of its own. But most of all, this is a book about loving a mother, a father, a partner, and about being loved back.


Devil on the Cross by Ngũgĩ waThiong’o


This one is from my school days, when studying the nature of satire. This novel is why I fell in love with satire. It is my favourite of all Ngũgĩ’s novels and plays. It is where I learnt to wield humour, irony and sarcasm as weapons of anger. It was drummed into my head that you never let anger spill onto the page. Instead, you use these elements to reign it in. We studied it along with A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift and both texts left a strong impression on me. Sometimes, the study of literature can take the pleasure out of reading and it becomes a chore, but because of the humour I roared and hooted my way through Devil on the Cross. As an author, I know that with humour you’ll get away with murder, that irony can bite without bitterness, and that sarcasm will take the story far. For this I am thankful to Mwalimu Ngũgĩ.


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As our 2021 judges – Yvonne Battle-Felton, Louise Doughty and Peter Kalu for the Jhalak Prize, and Candy Gourlay and Kiran Millwood Hargrave for the inaugural Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize deliberate, and yes agonise over selecting our shortlists for the year, we share their views on reading for the prize, on picking the longlist, and the books they love….that you need to read:


Yvonne Battle-Felton: Judging the Jhalak Prize has introduced me to works I may not have otherwise read. Imagine! I wouldn’t have met some of the characters, stories, phrases, lines, thoughts, facts, scenes, landscapes, topics, and more that left me - a lover of words - reduced to one: wow. The longlist is a stunning achievement. How did it feel to be a judge for this wonderful prize? Emotionally, I am lit up: filled to the brim with stories, characters, and a range of emotions. One of them is gratitude.


Louise Doughty: I've been a previous judge for the Booker Prize, the Costa Novel Award, the Desmond Elliot Prize and numerous others, and never have I found it so hard to narrow the entries down to a longlist. The standard was amazingly high and inevitably the personal preferences of the judges had to come into play - but no writer should feel disheartened by missing out in this fifth anniversary year, the competition was fierce.


Peter Kalu: Judge Not (that you be not judged). Is a daisy more beautiful than an orchid? This is the task judges are faced with. Did we get it right here? For now, no-one knows. Time will judge the judges. Yet if I fell onto a desert Island and had the Jhalak 2021 Longlist as my only reading, I know I would have a stay filled with wonders, nightmares, speculations, provocations and a beautifully strong sense of what it is to be human and among other humans. I have thoroughly enjoyed the process. Though I’ve twisted and turned these last few nights at some of the amazing books that have been left off. The winner is not among the longlist. The winner is literature itself.


Candy Gourlay: It was humbling to read this treasure chest of entries, a revelation of talent! Our list puts on display the best an author for children can offer, always perfectly pitched to the young reader, whether an illustrated book to read aloud or a young adult with all the burgeoning emotion that involves. I was especially excited by the untold histories now finding their way into books, the unheard voices singing from their pages.


Kiran Millwood Hargrave: Judging any prize is always a mix of joy and tough decisions, and the quality of the entries to the Jhalak CYA Prize this year made it an especially exciting experience. We have settled on a longlist that foregrounds and rewards storytelling in all its forms, from picture books made to be seen and shared aloud, to fantastical, moving middle grade, and YA that grips and confronts. It's an extraordinary longlist, and I can recommend every book on it with my full and whole heart.


The shortlists for both prizes will be announced on 13th April 2021.



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