Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s The First Woman is the winner of this year’s Jhalak Prize. Initiated in 2016, the Jhalak Prize celebrates books by writers of colour in Britain. For the Book of the Year award, The First Woman was up against Romalyn Ante’s Antiemetic for Homesickness, Catherine Cho’s Inferno, Rachel Long’s My Darling From the Lions, Katy Massey’s Are We Home Yet, and Paul Mendez’s Rainbow Milk.
“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,” said judge Peter Kalu. “Makumbi is a supremely gifted writer and The First Woman is an astonishing accomplishment.”
All of this year’s winners, said Jhalak Prize founder and director Sunny Singh, are “towering literary achievements, full of authorly courage, stylistic panache and great heart.”
Here is a description of The First Woman by its publisher, Oneworld Publications:
At once epic and deeply personal, the second novel from prize-winning author Jennifer Makumbi is an intoxicating mix of Ugandan folklore and modern feminism that will linger in the memory long after the final page.
As Kirabo enters her teens, questions begin to gnaw at her – questions which the adults in her life will do anything to ignore. Where is the mother she has never known? And why would she choose to leave her daughter behind? Inquisitive, headstrong, and unwilling to take no for an answer, Kirabo sets out to find the truth for herself.
Her search will take her away from the safety of her prosperous Ugandan family, plunging her into a very different world of magic, tradition, and the haunting legend of ‘The First Woman’.
Makumbi’s first novel, Kintu, won the Kwani? Manuscript Project in 2013 and was longlisted for the Etisalat Prize in 2014. She won the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for “Let’s Tell This Story Properly,” which appeared in her story collection Manchester Happened. She was awarded the Windham-Campbell Prize in 2018, and selected as one of “100 Most Influential Africans” by New African in 2020. She lives in Manchester where she teaches Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University.
The First Woman is an Oprah Magazine Best of 2020, TIME magazine Must-Read Book of 2020, and a Bookseller Book of the Month.