Thursday, July 03, 2008

Gifted? Absolutely.

Rajasthani-born and Cardiff-raised Nikita Lalwani picked up the inaugural Desmond Elliott Prize for quality writing in popular fiction last night for her novel Gifted, and promptly donated her prize money to the fabulous human rights and free speech organisation Liberty. Liberty's director Shami Chakrabarti has been one of the most visible and outspoken leftist presences in the British media since the invasion of Iraq -- possibly the most high-profile woman of colour to be found on TV, radio and in the press since Moira Stuart was dumped by the BBC for being over the hill. As the current issue of Sable points out, things have improved under Greg Dyke in terms of representation at the BBC -- but not much.

Lalwani's welcome win hints at a turning point in British culture -- the critical and popular success of Gifted consolidates the long-overdue emergence of a generation of British women novelists of colour, writing diverse novels in different genres, on awards *and* bestseller lists (Zadie Smith, Diane Evans, Monica Ali, Andrea Levy). This is a considerable achievement given that study after study shows that all aspects of the UK book industry remain overwhelmingly dominated by white men, something that initiatives such as the Orange Prize (for women writers) and Decibel (a traineeship for people of colour in the creative industries) are working to change.

Not only that, but as a further sign of the times, Lalwani scooped the frontrunner for the award, Tom Rob Smith, who has been the subject of profiles in the UK press for his six-figure deal thriller. William Hill might have quoted odds of 1/2 on Child 44 taking the prize, but as Rumi Vasi, the child maths prodigy who is the protagonist of Gifted would have known, sometimes it's about more than the math. Congratulations to Lalwani for her award and her generosity in showing the true meaning of "gifted": the ability and desire to share.

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