The JCB Prize for Literature announced its inaugural shortlist of five novels today. The five novels shortlisted are Half the Night Gone by Amitabha Bagchi; Jasmine Days by Benyamin, translated by Shahnaz Habib; Poonachi by Perumal Murugan, translated by N. Kalyan Raman; All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy and Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup, which is her debut novel. The shortlist is extremely diverse and spans various genres and timelines from a story about masculinity in two eras of Delhi to a talking goat who provides a new perspective to an unequal world.
Instituted by the multinational JCB Group, the JCB prize is India’s richest literary prize at Rs 25 lakh to be awarded to the winning author. If the prize-winning book happens to be a translation, the translator receives Rs 5 lakh. The shortlisted novels receive Rs 1 Lakh each while the translators receive Rs 50,000.
The 2018 jury for the prize include Kannada novelist Vivek Shanbhag, Yale University astrophysicist and writer Priyamvada Natarajan, entrepreneur and scholar Rohan Murty, and author and translator Arshia Sattar.
Speaking about the shortlisting process, jury chair Shanbhag said, “As a jury we have attempted to go beyond our own subjective beliefs and arrive at primarily good books.”
Author Rana Dasgupta, who is the literary director of the prize, said the prize is aimed at increasing accessibility to literary fiction. “Outside of the very small number of people who are intimately connected with publishing, most people do not have access to any literary fiction and the prize can help these people access and have a relationship with this world of books,” he said.
Dasgupta added that the prize is forward-looking in terms of the scope of the Indian literary fiction, fifteen or twenty years down the line. “We don’t just want to be passive spectators, we want to attempt to actively alter the publishing space to encourage the publishing of more fiction as well as translations,” he added.
The prize has attempted to widen the scope of what is considered as the ‘Indian literary scene’ by giving equal weightage to translated fiction. Arshia Sattar, a jury member and renowned translator, talking about the uniqueness of translated works, said, “The biggest problem of translations is that of access and where we locate them in our reading lives. When one sees a translated work, they already know that they have to undertake a two-step project, and yet translations are extremely important because it is becoming increasingly essential to read about people different than ourselves.”
The winner of the JCB Prize for Literature will be announced on October 24.