Acclaimed novelist Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi has been awarded the 2021 Jhalak Prize for her second novel The First Woman, described as “a powerful feminist rendition of Uganda’s origin tales.” The US edition of the book is titled A Girl is a Body of Water and was featured on our 50 Notable African Books of 2020.

In its fifth year, the Jhalak Prize seeks to honor extraordinary writing by UK-based writers of color. The winner receives a cash award of £1,000 bestowed by an anonymous donor. In 2021, they included a new category for children’s literature, which went to Patience Lawrence for her YA novel Eight Pieces of Silva.

It is important to acknowledge the significance of a book centering Ugandan experience winning a major prize for writers of color in the UK. It shows the global influence of African storytelling. Makumbi’s The First Woman, a follow-up to her magnificent debut Kintu, chronicles a woman’s quest for self-discovery. Longlisted for the 2021 Aspen Words Literary Prize, the novel was named one of the best books of 2020 by Sunday Times, Daily Mail, BBC Culture, Waterstones, Good Housekeeping, TIME, and Oprah Magazine. (Read our review here.)

The novel emerged winner from a shortlist that included Paul Mendez for Rainbow Milk (novel) Rachel Long for My Darling From the Lions (poetry), and Catherine Cho for Inferno (memoir).

The judges for the 2021 prize included Yvonne Battle-Felton, Louise Doughty, Peter Kalu, Verna Allette Wilkins, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Candy Gourlay, Roy McFarlane, Nikesh Shukla, Anita Sethi, and Kerry Young.

Peter Kalu said; “The First Woman has magnetic, tender, vindictive, generous oh-so-human characters whose journeys through the novel moved me – this block of stone known as me – to tears,” he said. “Makumbi is a supremely gifted writer and The First Woman an astonishing accomplishment.”

Previous winners of the Jhalak Prize include Johny Pitts, Guy Gunaratne, Reni Eddo-Lodge, and Jacob Ross.

Congratulations to Jennifer!