EVENTS Jhalak Prize shortlistees


The Announcement and celebration of The Jhalak Prize, for British/British resident BAME writers, shortlistees was held in the esteemed Reading Room at The London Library on 18 May, 2023Eva Wong Nava reports. 

Strolling through St James, you will find a rather nondescript building hiding floors and floors of books. Unless you’re purposefully looking for it, it’s easy to miss this library. The London Library is an independent lending library founded in 1841 when there were no state-funded libraries or even any lending libraries. Established by Thomas Carlyle, who had a mission to set up a library where readers could borrow books, writers could gather to work and literature could have a stately home, he garnered the help of friends and set up a founding committee, and as they say, the rest is history.

On 18 May an important celebration was held in this historical building and I was invited to join in as a guest by children’s author and SCBWI member, Maisie Chan. We were there to celebrate the shortlistees of the Jhalak Prize.

The Jhalak Prize for British/British resident BAME writers was established in 2016 by Professor Sunny Singh, author Nikesh Shukla, and non-profit Media Diversified. The Jhalak awarded its first prize in 2017. Three years later, The Children’s & YA Prize was established. Over the years, entries of picture books, middle-grade and young adult novels by BAME authors have increased, and the judges are picked from an established pool of award-winning BAME authors. This is great news in terms of representation. It is also a sign that the market is moving towards more diversity, though it still has a long way to go. A prize like the Jhalak is an important recognition of the diverse pool of talented authors-of-colour in the U.K. and every milestone is a celebration. Baby steps, as we say.

The 2023 judges for the Children’s & YA prize were Maisie Chan, Irfan Master and YabJoa Badoe.

Children's and YA shortlist

Chan was the winner of the 2022 prize for her Middle-grade novel, Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths. She is also the founder of the Bubble Tea Writers Network, a loose network of BESEA (British East and Southeast Asian) writers and illustrators who are residents in the UK.

It was humbling to be amongst the greats. Portrait photos of authors past who were members of this private establishment decorate the walls. Their eyes glisten with life as they watch you climb the stairs.

The celebration was held in the Reading Room opened by Virginia Woolf’s father in 1896. Just knowing the history takes your breath away and you immediately get a whiff of the antique books lining the shelves above. It was heady just to be in this room!

Lucy Farfort with Ann Sei Lin

After the introductory speech and conversation between the host, Yassmin Abdel-Magied, and judges, Maisie Chan and Haleh Agar, the guests were treated to 2-minute readings by the shortlisted authors themselves. We started with Lucy Farfort, picture book author-illustrator, who read from her debut In Our Hands. Lucy is also a SCBWI BI member and she told me how much she has gained from being a member.

Maisie Chan with Haleh Agar, judge for the adult novels

This was followed by a reading from Rebel Skies by debut YA author Ann Sei Lin. Lin’s book was also shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award, another children’s award that rewards the most promising new authors and their editors in U.K. children’s writing and publishing.

The adult shortlistees were equally captivating, many of whom were so performative in their readings, it was like watching a monologue on stage. I was blown away and when I grow up as a children’s book author, I want to write like them as an adult book author.

So, it is needless to say that the talent in The Reading Room was dazzling last night.

The Shortlistees with their books

*Header: The London Library, entrance;
all images courtesy of Eva Wong Nava 


Eva Wong Nava is a children’s book author advocating for more diversity and representation in children’s books in the U.K. and co-founder of Picture Book Matters, a mentoring platform for aspiring picture book creators who identify Asian and Southeast Asian. She is also the Representation Editor for Words & Pictures. Find her on Twitter and Instagram  or email


Stephanie Cotela is the Network News & Events Editor at Words & Pictures magazine.

1 comment:

  1. I was there: you've captured it well. It really was a special evening.


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