Travis Alabanza and Danielle Jawando win 2023

Travis Alabanza’s “vulnerable and urgent” memoir exploring genderqueer identities has won the 2023 Jhalak prize, while a coming-of-age novel by Danielle Jawando has taken the Jhalak children’s and young adult award.

Alabanza’s None of the Above and Jawando’s When Our Worlds Collided were announced as winners at a ceremony in London on Thursday. The prizes recognise the best writing by British or British-resident writers of colour.

The pair each win £1,000 and a specially created work of art as part of the ongoing Jhalak art residency, through which artists of colour are invited to create a prize.

Sunny Singh, the director of the prize, said both winning books were “timely and timeless, courageous as well as meticulously crafted”.

“None of the Above by Travis Alabanza is a thoughtful, stunningly crafted meditation on identity, survival, resilience and defiance that inhabits the personal but also transcends it to speak to universal ethical, moral and human concerns,” she continued. “When Our Worlds Collided is compelling young adult novel that is urgent, necessary and intensely compassionate.”

In None of the Above, Alabanza looks at seven sentences people have directed at them about their gender identity, turning a mirror back on social attitudes. Alabanza said that the shortlisting had already “brought so many new readers” which they were “not expecting”. And winning the award will encourage people to look at transgender and gender non-conforming people “in a celebratory way, to look at how our art is able to be successful,” they added.

As well as a writer, Alabanza is also a performance artist, and in 2017 they became the youngest recipient of an artist residency at the Tate. Their debut show, Burgerz, won the Edinburgh fringe total theatre award in 2019.

“I needed to write this book because I want to tell my own narrative rather than let everyone fill in the blanks,” Alabanza said. “And I think when an award like this happens for trans people, it just continues to show that there are more people wanting to celebrate us than not.”

Jhalak prize judge Haleh Agar said None of the Above was a “vulnerable and urgent exploration of non-binary identities”, while fellow judge Monisha Rajesh said Alabanza “writes with extraordinary generosity, vulnerability and thoughtfulness, presenting us with a voice that’s rarely heard, often stifled and desperately important”.

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Danielle Jawando.
Danielle Jawando. Photograph: pr handout

“Alabanza’s book has a reflective quality that touches the heart and engages the mind,” said judge Anthony Vahni Capildeo. “It feels like being invited into someone’s interiority.”

When Our Worlds Collided follows what happens to three teenagers from different walks of life after a 14-year-old called Shaq is stabbed outside a busy shopping centre in Manchester.

The book, Jawando said, was “so hard to write”. “For a long time, I thought it was really terrible,” she said. “I lost a lot of confidence with this book.” She said she was “really honoured” to win the prize.

Judge Maisie Chan, who won in the children’s and young adult category last year, said Jawando’s book “is one that speaks to many young people today that have been vilified or who go unheard”.

Fellow judge Irfan Master said the book stood out for its “craft, courage and connection”, while Yaba Badoe, also judging, said “every teenager” should read the book.

The Jhalak prize was first awarded in 2017, and the children’s and young adult award was founded in 2020. Last year’s prize was won by Sabba Khan for her graphic novel The Roles We Play.

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