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JCB Prize For Literature Announces Longlist for 2021, Dominated By Debut Novels

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Featuring six novels by debutant authors Rijula Das, Krupa Ge, Daribha Lyndem, Shabir Ahmed Mir, Lindsay Pereira and Keerthik Sasidharan, the longlist of 2021 JCB Prize for Literature, which is one of Indian writing’s coveted awards, was announced on Monday.

The 2021 longlist includes: ‘A Death in Sonagachhi’ by Rijula Das; ‘What We Know About Her by Krupa Ge’; ‘Name Place Animal Thing’ by Daribha Lyndem; ‘The Plague Upon Us’ by Shabir Ahmed Mir; ‘Gods and Ends’ by Lindsay Pereira; ‘The Dharma Forest’ by Keerthik Sasidharan; and ‘Asoca’ by Irwin Allan Sealy.

The Prize was set up in 2018 to enhance the prestige of literary achievement in India and create greater visibility for contemporary Indian writing. According to the statement, this year the longlist was chosen from a wide range of submissions by writers from 16 states writing in multiple languages published between August 1, 2020 and July 31, 2021.

Three Malayalam translations also feature on the list this year. These are: ‘Anti-Clock’ by V.J. James, translated from Malayalam by Ministhy S.; ‘Delhi: A Soliloquy’ by M. Mukundan, translated from Malayalam by Fathima E.V. and Nandakumar K.; and ‘The Man Who Learnt to Fly but Could Not Land’ by Thachom Poyil Rajeevan, translated from Malayalam by P.J. Mathew.

As a reflection of the times, all novels prominently feature themes of self-reflection, duality and morality, says the JCB Literature Foundation.

The list of ten novels was selected by a panel of five judges: Sara Rai (Chair), author and literary translator; Annapurna Garimella, designer and art historian; Shahnaz Habib, author and translator; Prem Panicker, journalist and editor; and Amit Varma, writer and podcaster.

The Longlist will be followed by a shortlist announcement on October 4. The winner of the Rs 25-lakh JCB Prize for Literature will be announced on November 13.

Commenting on the longlist for 2021 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.”

Mita Kapur, Literary Director, says: “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 prize encourages translations and aims to introduce new audiences to works of Indian literature written in languages other than their own.

This annual prize for Literature, celebrating distinguished works of fiction by Indian writers, was previously won in 2020 by ‘Moustache’ by S. Hareesh, translated from the Malayalam by Jayasree Kalathil, and in 2019 by ‘The Far Field’ by Madhuri Vijay. Its debut edition in 2018 was won by ‘Jasmine Days’ by Benyamin, translated from the Malayalam by Shahnaz Habib.

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