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Spotlight on the Jhalak Prize Longlist

By Shaniah Shields, Michelle Ye, Leanne Francis and Jia Wen Ho, Aimee Haldron, Holly Allwright, Emma Roger, Rosie Pinder and Nicole Haynes

Returning for the sixth year, the Jhalak Prize is an annual literary prize that showcases diverse voices in the British literary landscape. Among its amazing list of winners are: Jacob Ross, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Guy Gunarartne. The shortlists will be announced soon on 18 April and the winners on 25 May 2023.

Birdgirl by Mya-Rose Craig

Mya-Rose Craig’s memoir, Birdgirl, details how birdwatching has been an inspirational force in her life. Since childhood, birdwatching captured Craig’s attention leading to a greater awareness of conservation. Craig is also a diversity activist pushing for greater minority involvement in global problem solving. Birdgirl brings together the threads of Craig’s life and presents a pattern of determination and compassion to its readers.

Takeaway by Angela Hui

In her autobiography, Takeaway, Angela Hui recounts the facets of life behind a Chinese takeaway counter. With her home and the shopfront being one and the same, Hui’s life was intimately coloured by customer confrontations and xenophobic attacks. But the takeaway counter was also the source of an unceasing, joyful vitality. Takeaway brings together these disparities, highlighting the vibrancy of multicultural life.

The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho by Paterson Joseph

Paterson Joseph tells the true story of Charles Ignatius Sancho who has escaped slavery but is alone in the unwelcoming London of 1746. From the Atlantic Ocean to the city centre, The Secret Diaries traces Sancho’s footsteps as he carves his own path to be a musician, composer and abolitionist; a testament to what can be accomplished even in the direst circumstances.

The Attic Child by Lola Jaye

A powerful and heart-wrenching story told of two children who are a century apart but trapped in the same attic. Celestine, a twelve-year-old slave, is forgetting his identity as he languishes away in the attic. After a century, Lowra, who is born to privilege, suddenly finds herself orphaned and is banished to the same attic. She finds clues of Celestine and unravels his secrets.

The Room Between Us by Denise Saul

This collection is an introspective take on a mother-daughter relationship, through the lens of a patient and a carer. The daughter is a carer for her mother who is a stroke patient and has aphasia. Denise Saul puts into words suffering that can't be intelligibly communicated, showing unconditional love.

I'm a Fan by Sheena Patel

Obsessive and uncomfortable, I'm a Fan reads like doom scrolling down an Instagram feed of toxic exes and mean girls. Forget main character energy, the unnamed narrator “she” is likened to a faded non-speaking background character in film. Lacking dialogues, scenes and even names, this is a wild and critical read about nasty relationships and the cultural desire for status and likes.

When We Were Birds by Ayanna Lloyd Banwo

Ayanna Banwo blends romance with fantasy in her spellbinding debut novel When We Were Birds. Set in Trinidad, we follow Darwin, a down-on-his-luck gravedigger, and Yejide, a young woman whose family has the ability to commune with the dead. Yejide and Darwin’s lives eventually intersect at the cemetery in a story rich with magic, love, loss and wisdom.

Hiding to Nothing by Anita Pati

This debut poetry collection is a visceral exploration of legacies; of lives prevented from reaching their full potential. Touching on issues such as structural racism and infertility, Anita Pati uses vivid imagery and stunning lyricism to narrate the experience of existing in a brown female body within a hostile environment.

Another Way to Split Water by Alycia Pirmohamed

Alycia Pirmohamed’s debut poetry collection is an intimate testimony to womanhood, spanning across generations. Flooded with arresting imagery, Another Way to Split Water is a meditation on lineage, exploring the idea of ancestral memory and longing for people and places we have never seen.

None of the Above by Travis Alabanza

This moving memoir examines seven sentences that people have directed to the author about their gender identity. Alabanza has crafted an honest discussion of non-binary identity in this deeply personal exploration of what it means to be a Black mixed-race, working-class, non-binary trans person in contemporary society.

Here Again Now by Okechukwu Nzelu

The award-winning author of The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney is back with a captivating literary novel that offers a deeply intimate examination of father/son relationships and love in its many forms. Nzelu puts familial relationships in the spotlight and provides an honest interior view of masculine relationships in their many forms. Uplifting, hopeful and raw, Nzelu has established themselves as a tour de force.

Losing the Plot by Derek Owusu

Owusu experiments with form in this searching biographical fiction which offers a powerful reflection of a son attempting to imagine the life his mother had before his birth. Charting her journey from Ghana to the UK, this offers a sensitive and sincere look at parenthood, at the immigrant experience and at the inevitable effects of displacement.

Children’s and Young Adult’s Highlights

John Agard’s Windrush Child by John Agard

From the prominent poet John Agard and debut illustrator Sophie Bass, comes this stunning picture book following a child’s journey from the Caribbean to Britain as a part of the Windrush generation. The gorgeous illustrations coupled with Agard’s powerful writing create a stunning representation of a slice of history.

In Our Hands by Lucy Farofort

In Our Hands is a heartwarming tale of hope and the importance of community. This dystopian picture book describes a place without colour after the “dulling” spreads across the world. With neighbours becoming enemies and communities falling into isolation, a group of children team up to bring the world hope.

Creeping Beauty: Fairy Tales Gone Bad by Joseph Coelho

Turning the traditional fairytale on its head, this book written in verse by the award-winning poet, Joseph Coelho, is a funny and magical read for children with an active imagination. Eshe, a Fairy Godmother, has the ability to see into the future, but one day she has a glimpse of something terrifying that she must stop before it's too late.

These are the Words by Nikita Gill

The only poetry collection on the list, Gill’s young adult debut paints a portrait of modern life and how she traverses it. It is a letter of guidance to her childhood self accompanied by stunning illustrations by her own hand. Feminist and fearless, this collection would be an asset to any young adult as they too come to grips with the world.

When Our Worlds Collided by Danielle Jawando

A powerful and thought-provoking story where a stabbing outside a Manchester shopping centre brings the lives of three teens from very different backgrounds together. When fourteen year-old Shaq is stabbed, the lives of Chantelle, Marc and Jackson are changed forever as they question the deep-rooted prejudice and racism that exists within society.

Needle by Patrice Lawrence

A poignant look into the life of a girl trapped in both the care system and then the criminal justice system, Needle follows Charlene, an avid knitter who stabs her foster brother in the hand with a needle after he destroys her work. It is a powerful painting of loss, grief and family that truly shines a light on life in the complex systems of the United Kingdom.

Mia and the Lightcasters by Janelle McCurdy

Born from Janelle McCurdy’s love of gaming, Mia and the Lightcasters follows a young girl who dreams of being a magical umbra tamer. One day, her city of Nubis is attacked and her parents are kidnapped. Joined by her younger brother, two friends and a tamed umbra, Mia must travel to the City of Light to save her captured parents.

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun by Tolá Okogwu

Also named as Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month for June 2022, this action-packed book encourages girls to embrace and love their Afro hair. Onyeka has always felt insecure about her curls, until she discovers she can control her hair with her mind! After her mother sends her to a school in Nigeria to be trained with other children, Onyeka and her friends soon find themselves in a battle that puts their powers to the test.

Ellie Pillai is Brown by Christine Pillainayagam

The perfect coming-of-age summer romance by debut author Christine Pillainayagam follows Ellie as she navigates high school, falling in love and following her heart. She soon realises that everything she’s worried about herself – her misfit style, her skin colour, her songwriting – is all okay and that standing out isn’t a bad thing.

The Haunting of Tyrese Walker by J.P. Rose

A psychological horror for young adults, this haunting book follows a young boy dealing with the aftermath of a traumatic event. Whilst visiting his family in Jamaica, Tyrese begins to experience strange things and suspects he is being hunted by the infamous Shadow Man. Rooted in Jamaican folklore, this mystery explores themes of grief and family with a spooky twist.

Rebel Skies by Ann Sei Lin

Inspired by Japanese culture, Rebel Skies is a pacy teen fantasy adventure following a girl with special powers as she embarks on a special mission to give the paper spirits of her world a voice. Full of flying ships and sky cities, this story deals with themes of empires, slavery and freedom.

Dadaji’s Paintbrush by Rashmi Sirdeshpande

This beautifully illustrated children’s book reflects upon the experience of grief as a child mourns his grandfather’s death. After he passes, the child struggles to pick up his paintbrush as it was a passion he shared with his grandfather.


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