Debut novelists and fiction in translation dominate the the longlist of the 2021 JCB Prize for Literature, which was announced on Monday. Selected by a panel of five judges—author and translator Sara Rai (Chair); designer and art historian Annapurna Garimella; author and translator Shahnaz Habib; journalist and editor Prem Panicker; and writer and podcaster Amit Varma—six of the ten entries feature debutants, while three are translations from Malayalam.
The stronghold of Malayalam isn't surprising, given that two of the three winners of the prize so far have been writers in the language—Benyamin, who won it for Jasmine Days in 2018 and S. Hareesh, who was last year's winner for his novel, Moustache.
The longlist was chosen from a wide range of submissions by writers from 16 states writing in multiple languages published between 1 August 2020 and 31 July 2021. Awarded each year to a work of fiction by an Indian writer, it gives ₹25 lakhs to the winner. If the winning work is a translation, the translator gets an additional ₹10 lakh. Each of the five shortlisted authors receive ₹1 lakh; if a shortlisted work is a translation, the translator gets ₹50,000. The jury will declare the shortlist of five titles on 4 October. The winner be announced on 13 November.
The 2021 longlist is:
● A Death in Sonagachhi by Rijula Das (Pan Macmillan, 2021)
● What We Know About Her by Krupa Ge (Westland, 2021): Read our review here.
● Anti-Clock by V.J. James, translated from Malayalam by Ministhy S. (Penguin Random House India, 2021)
● Name Place Animal Thing by Daribha Lyndem (Zubaan, 2021)
● The Plage Upon Us by Shabir Ahmed Mir (Hachette India, 2020): Read our review here.
● Delhi: A Soliloquy by M. Mukundan, translated from Malayalam by Fathima E.V. & Nandakumar K. (Westland, 2020)
● Gods and Ends by Lindsay Pereira (Penguin Random House India, 2021): Read our review here.
● The Man Who Learnt to Fly but Could Not Land by Thachom Poyil Rajeevan, translated from Malayalam by P.J. Mathew (Hachette India, 2020)
● The Dharma Forest by Keerthik Sasidharan (Penguin Random House India, 2020): Read and excerpt from the book here.
● Asoca by Irwin Allan Sealy (Penguin Random House India, 2021): Read our review here.
The books by Rijula Das, Krupa Ge, Daribha Lyndem, Shabir Ahmed Mir, Lindsay Pereira and Keerthik Sasidharan are all debut novels.
Commenting on the longlist for 2021, Rai, Chair of the jury, said, “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."
“Our continued dedication to look for great literature beyond the narrow confines of genre means that the longlist will have something for every reader,” added Mita Kapur, director of the prize.
“With covid-related restrictions in place across the country, the JCB Prize for Literature is partnering with Amazon Books India for the fourth year in a row to ensure that the longlisted books reach people in every corner of the country,” the press release added. “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.”