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The Jhalak Prize for British BAME Authors

By Emma Baigey and Paridhi Badgotri



Co-founded in 2017 by authors Nikesh Shukla and Sunny Singh, the Jhalak Prize and the newer Jhalak Children’s & YA Prize aim to support and celebrate British BAME writers. The only other literary award in the UK that accepts entries strictly from writers of colour is the SI Leeds Literary Prize, which was first awarded in 2012.


In an article for Writers Mosaic, Singh spoke of the need for “initiatives that are not intended for the white gaze, that can resist the lure of whiteness and continue to centre a decolonising impulse to resist, challenge, defy and revolt.” The Jhalak Prize, whose previous winners include Reni Eddo-Lodge and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, does just this.


Barriers to admission are few, as entry is open to all genres and to self-published authors. The shortlist consists of six books, which are celebrated by twelve independent bookshops thanks to a partnership with National Book Tokens. The publicity events and social outreach that result of this collaboration works towards Singh’s goal to “help writers of colour not only to reach wider readerships but to encourage both writers and readers, not only of Colour, to question how our psyches and our imaginations have been colonised.”


The 2022 Jhalak Prizes went to Sabba Khan for her debut graphic novel, The Roles We Play, and Maisie Chan for Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths. Both independently published authors received £1000 alongside a piece of art that serves as a trophy, created by BAME artists through the Jhalak Art Residency. This year, Romani artist Elijah Vardo constructed the artwork using gouache, markers, pencil and ink and ink on paper. He named the piece “My Grandmother’s Hands” as it embodies the oral storytelling tradition within his culture amidst high rates of illiteracy, and it symbolises the significance of holding our personal histories in our hands whilst bringing them to a wider audience.


We’ve spotlighted a few highlights from the shortlists, from fun-filled graphic novels to historical narratives of belonging and race.


Consumed by Arifa Akbar


Consumed is a story that deals with a blend of sisterhood, grief and strange mythologies around tuberculosis. It is a memoir that deals with Arifa Akbar’s sister falling seriously ill. Akbar discovers that her sister’s illness was the start of the revelation of family secrets and her sister’s own world.


Somebody Loves You by Mona Arshi


The novel explores the refuge of Ruby in silence. Ruby rarely opens her mouth, silence is an escape from the trauma of her mother’s mental illness and pressurised suburban atmosphere. It is a stunning story that ponders over the choice to express or refuse the stories that build us.


The Roles We Play by Sabba Khan


Khan’s debut graphic novel examines themes of cultural and personal identity amidst the British Pakistani diaspora. Being a second-generation Azad Kashmir migrant herself, Khan builds a visual tale based around the major flooding that happened in Azad Kashmir where the majority of this diaspora originated and were forced to flee from.


Things I Have Withheld by Kei Miller


This beautiful collection of essays took home the OCM Bocas Prize for non-fiction and was shortlisted for the Baillie Gifford Prize. Miller’s letters to known racial equality activists and artists as well as problematic figures act as a framework for tales of everyday racism. He is particularly concerned with silence and the impact and risks of breaking it. More than anything, the collection probes readers to question the things we think are unspeakable and why we think this way, from prejudice in our imaginations to our reflex defence mechanisms and actions.


We're Going to Find the Monster by Malorie Blackman, illustrated by Dapo Adeola


Dream team Malorie Blackman and Dapo Adeola have teamed up to create this colourful and joyous children’s adventure book. The tale by previous Children's Laureate and winner of Illustrator of the Year at The British Book Awards 2022 have crafted a story about two adventurers who imagine their brother becomes a monster.


The Musical Truth: A Musical History of Modern Black Britain in 28 Songs by Jeffrey Boakye, illustrated by Ngadi Smart


This important novel makes the complex themes of race, imperialism and postcolonialism accessible to young adults. Boakye and Smart use the music of Black British artists to depict significant turning points in the nation’s history and race relations, provoking us to question existing, dominant narratives.


Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths by Maisie Chan


This feel-good story follows eleven-year-old Danny Chung, who can’t meet the expectations of his family to be good at maths. All he wants to do is retreat into his bedroom where he can let his creativity burst and draw to his heart’s content. When his Chinese, ex-maths-champion grandmother Nai Nai comes to stay, they are both forced to learn a few unexpected lessons from each other.

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