The longlist for the JCB Prize for Literature, which honours “a distinguished work of fiction by an Indian author” each year, has been announced for 2021. Six works by debutant authors and three Malayalam translations feature in the list of 10 novels drawn from a wide range of submissions, in multiple languages, by writers from 16 states.
Books published between August 1, 2020, and July 31, 2021 are eligible for this year’s award.
The five-member jury that selected the list of 10 novels comprises of author and literary translator Sara Rai (Chair), designer and art historian Dr Annapurna Garimella, author and translator Shahnaz Habib, journalist Prem Panicker, and writer Amit Varma. In drawing up the list, Rai said the jury looked for “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,” she further said, adding that the novels that made the final list were unforgettable and stayed with them long after they had finished reading them.
The six debutant novelists who made the list are Rijula Das (A Death in Sonagachhi, Pan Macmillan), Krupa Ge (What We Know About Her, Westland), Daribha Lyndem (Name Place Animal Thing, Zubaan Publishers Pvt Ltd), Shabir Ahmed Mir (The Plage Upon Us, Hachette India), Lindsay Pereira (Gods and Ends, Penguin Random House India), and Keerthik Sasidharan (The Dharma Forest, Penguin Random House India).
Speaking to Silverscreen India, Lyndem said, “I am absolutely ecstatic about having made the longlist! It is an honour to be nominated alongside so many talented writers. As a first time author, my only hope was that a few people read my book. To actually be longlisted is something out of a dream.”
The three translations in the longlist are Delhi: A Soliloquy by M Mukundan translated from Malayalam by Fathima EV and Nandakumar K (Westland), The Man Who Learnt to Fly but Could Not Land by Thachom Poyil Rajeevan translated from Malayalam by PJ Mathew (Hachette India), Anti-Clock by VJ James translated from Malayalam by Ministhy S (Penguin Random House India).
Irwin Allan Sealy’s Asoca (Penguin Random House India) rounded out the list.
The five shortlisted titles will be announced on October 4 by the jury. The winner, who will be awarded a prize of Rs 25 lakh, will be announced on November 13. If the winning work is a translation, the translator will receive an additional Rs 10 lakh.
Each of the five shortlisted authors will also be awarded Rs 1 lakh and in the case of a translation, the translator will receive Rs 50,000.
The JCB Prize for Literature has so far been dominated by Malayalam translations, which have won two of the three awards since its launch in 2018. The 2018 winner was Jasmine Days by Benyamin translated from the Malayalam by Shahnaz Habib and the 2020 winner was Moustache by S Hareesh translated from the Malayalam by Jayasree Kalathil. The 2019 winner was The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay.