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Books We Love... 

that you need to read

A book recommendations blog by writers of colour


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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For this year’s LGBT+ History Month in the UK, author Niven Govinden picks some of his favourite reads by queer writers of colour for our Books We Love…that You Need to Read blog. Niven is the award-winning author of five novels. His latest, The Diary of a Film has just been published to rave reviews.

Tell Me How Long The Train's Been Gone, James Baldwin

This is the Baldwin novel I always return to, and think the most about. It's overshadowed by the greater weight of “Another Country” and “Giovanni's Room”, but to my mind it's quintessential Jimmy, in its telling of a creative life discovered and then thriving across New York, segregated America, and latterly the freedom of Europe. In Leo Proudhammer, Baldwin gives us a complex lead narrator: honest, egotistical, dramatic, bisexual, loving; one whose passion on and off stage looms large. Scenes of police brutality in childhood New York could have been written yesterday - ditto the emotive passages on travelling as a man of colour around Europe. What a book.

The Ministry of Guidance and Other Stories, Golnoosh Nour

I was blown away by the stories in this collection, that presents Iran and Persian queer life (and the diapora) in always engaging and multi-layered ways. These are stories that continue to linger long after reading: "Spoilt", with its childhood lesson of disappointment, "Transit", a story of in-flight queer possibility, and "Acid", with its brutal takedown of the hipster culture in London and a mis-matched emotionally destructive relationship. I finished this collection wanting to read everything that had Nour's name on it. So excited to see what comes next.

There's a breadth, dynamism and energy coming from queer PoC poets that I totally NEED. I’m so excited about the work that poetry presses and journals do in nurturing and giving a platform to that work. Johnson is based in the U.S, but I would also mention Keith Jarret, whose collection Selah though different, electrifies me in the same way. In many ways, UK publishers have yet to match this in fiction - but we’re seeing signs of change. Slingshot takes ownership of sex work, disability, and the black body in language that speaks of depth, power, defeat, victory, autonomy. It's everything.

Gay Bar: Why We Went Out, Jeremy Atherton Lin

It’s no exaggeration to say that this is the book that had the most impact on me as a lockdown reader last year. Lin’s non-fiction debut is a (social) history of queer nightlife, across London, San Francisco and Los Angeles, weaved with personal memoir from the 90s to present day. It’s intersectional, fluid, lucid, moving, and hot AF. We’ve never needed to go out dancing and cruising more – and until we can, we can live through Lin’s glorious book. It’s a triumph.

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I have chosen books by Black women that I first read in my twenties which helped to shape the woman and the author I am today.

The Color Purple, Alice Walker: This was the first novel I read which featured Black protagonists and was a book which played in huge part in my decision to try to become an author myself. Celie’s story grabbed hold of me from the first chapter and never let me go. I remember reading the book over a weekend and being blown away by the narrative, the writing, the sheer excellence of the story celebrating the strength, the courage, the vulnerability, the sheer tenacity of Black women. I once met Alice Walker at a book signing and it was one of the highlights of my twenties. Scratch that! One of the highlights of my life.

The Women of Brewster Place, Gloria Naylor: Reading this book is like looking through a window into the lives of the women who live on Brewster Place and sharing their joys and their sorrows. I love the form and format of this book. Each woman tells of their life and their stories weave around each other to create a beautiful whole like a stunning tapestry.

The Joys of Motherhood, Buchi Emecheta: A beautifully written and poignant story of the sacrifices a mother makes for her children, particularly her eldest son. I took the title of the book at its word though and it was only after finishing the book that I appreciated its sardonic irony. Buchi Emecheta was such an evocative, underrated storyteller.

And Still I Rise, Maya Angelou: Poems that feed the mind and the soul. I was fortunate enough to see Maya Angelou in concert twice. She was phenomenal. Funny, poignant and breath-takingly honest about her past, her experiences, her inspirations. Just listening to her taught me so much about being true to yourself in your writing. She was one of a number of phenomenal black women who inspired me to be bold, to be brave, to take risks, to embrace my own voice.

The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison: This was the first book by Toni Morrison that I read, and I still remember how stunned I was by the story as I read the last sentence and closed the book. The searing narrative and the exquisite writing made me an instant fan. So much so that the next time I was in a bookshop, I bought every book of hers I could find. Quite simply, she was a sublime writer.

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