JCB Literature Prize 2021 longlist – finding the universal in the particular

Three Malayalam translations make 2021 JCB longlist

The 2021 JCB prize for literature longlist. Photo JCB Literature Foundation

The longlist of the 2021 JCB Prize for Literature was announced on 6 September 2021. The longlist of ten books for the award for Indian writing is dominated by six debut authors this year. Three works on the list are translations from Malayalam. The longlist was chosen from a wide range of submissions by writers from sixteen states writing fiction in multiple languages of work published between 1 August 2020 and 31 July 2021.

The JCB Prize for Literature is awarded each year to a distinguished work of fiction by an Indian writer. The jury will announce the shortlist of five titles on 4 October. The winner of the Rs 25-lakh JCB Prize for Literature will be announced on 13 November. If the winning work is a translation, the translator will receive an additional Rs 10 lakh. Each of the five shortlisted authors will receive Rs 1 lakh; if a shortlisted work is a translation, the translator will receive Rs 50,000.

The 2021 JCB Prize longlist is –

A Death in Sonagachhi by Rijula Das (Pan Macmillan, 2021)

What We Know About Her by Krupa Ge (Westland, 2021)

Anti-Clock by VJ James, translated from Malayalam by Ministhy S (Penguin Random House India, 2021)

Name Place Animal Thing by Daribha Lyndem (Zubaan Publishers, 2021)

The Plague Upon Us by Shabir Ahmed Mir (Hachette India, 2020)

Delhi: A Soliloquy by M Mukundan, translated from Malayalam by Fathima E V and Nandakumar K (Westland, 2020)

Gods and Ends by Lindsay Pereira (Penguin Random House India, 2021)

The Man Who Learnt to Fly but Could Not Land by Thachom Poyil Rajeevan, translated from Malayalam by PJ Mathew (Hachette India, 2020)

The Dharma Forest by Keerthik Sasidharan (Penguin Random House India, 2020)

Asoca by Irwin Allan Sealy (Penguin Random House India, 2021)

The books by Rijula Das, Krupa Ge, Daribha Lyndem, Shabir Ahmed Mir, Lindsay Pereira and Keerthik Sasidharan are all debut novels.

S Hareesh’s novel, Moustache, won the JCB Prize for Literature in 2020. The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay was the 2019 winner and Jasmine Days by Benyamin, translated from the Malayalam by Shahnaz Habib won the prize in 2018.

The list of ten novels for this year’s JCB was selected by a panel of five judges – author and literary translation Sara Rai the chairperson, Dr Annapurna Garimella, designer and art historian, Shahnaz Habib, author and translator, Prem Panicker, journalist and editor, and Amit Varma, writer and podcaster.

Commenting on the longlist and the overall reading experience, Sara Rai, chair of the jury, observed, “While reading through the great range of books, many of them translations, that were in the running for the JCB Prize 2021, there were certain things that we had in mind – a cohesiveness of plot and narrative, of structure and texture, metaphor, point of view, and acute angles of invention. We looked for the focused gaze and the unique voice, one in tune with the setting and situation in the book that despite rough edges was particular and at the same time universal. We were after well-written and well-edited books, those that transformed you in subtle ways by providing a new perspective on contemporary Indian reality even if the work was one of historical fiction. We found that the books on the 2021 longlist not only met these criteria but also passed the final test – they were unforgettable and stayed with us long after we had finished reading them.”

With Covid-related restrictions in place across the country, the JCB Prize for Literature is partnering with Amazon Books India for the fourth consecutive year to ensure that the longlisted books reach people in every corner of the country. In addition, the Prize is back this year with new on-ground collaborations with stand-alone book stores and Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters with the aim to provide wider access to the longlisted novels across India and create a one-on-one interaction between readers and books.

Commenting on the pairing of the longlisted novels with coffee, Namrata Asthana, co-founder, Blue Tokai Coffee Roasters, said, “Coffee and books have always gone hand in hand and we couldn’t have asked for the work of more talented writers to pair our coffee with. We are grateful to be able to contribute to the JCB Prize for Literature, which continues to provide a platform to and recognize some of the most fascinating literature coming out of India right now.”

Talking about the prize outreach, Mita Kapur, Literary director, said, “What we were looking for in the submissions this year, I think, was a sense of the world beyond ourselves. We reached out to publishers, big and small, across the country, working with books originally in English and translated from Indian languages. The books we received surprised us by showing us multiple ways of living and being, taking us out of the spaces our bodies and minds were confined to. Our continued dedication to look for great literature beyond the narrow confines of genre means that the longlist will have something for every reader.”

The JCB Prize for Literature was set up in 2018 to enhance the prestige of literary achievement in India and create greater visibility for contemporary Indian writing. The prize encourages translations and aims to introduce new audiences to works of Indian literature written in languages other than their own. It is funded by JCB and administered by the JCB Literature Foundation.

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