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The First Woman

Winner of the Jhalak Prize, 2021

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi


‘In Jennifer Makumbi, we have a giant of literature living among us.’ Peter Kalu, Jhalak Prize Judge

Longlisted for the Diverse Book Awards, 2021

‘Jennifer Makumbi is a genius storyteller.’ Reni Eddo-Lodge


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’.

  • Publication date: July 1, 2021
  • ISBN: 9781786078582
  • RRP: £8.99
  • Pages: 448
  • Publication date: October 1, 2020
  • ISBN: 9781786077882
  • RRP: £16.99
  • Pages: 448
  • Publication date: August 13, 2020
  • ISBN: 9781786077899
  • RRP: £4.99
  • Pages: 400


'Makumbi builds up the sense of a substantial, resonant, multifaceted family history now to be explored… totally captivating… This is a novel bursting at the seams with wonders and revelations.'


'The First Woman is a fabulous, wide-ranging, complex, funny and sad coming-of-age story with one of the most engaging heroines in years.'

Louise Doughty, Jhalak Prize judge

'The First Woman is captivating, wise, humorous and tender: Makumbi has come back stronger than ever. This is a tale about Kirabo and her family, and her place in the world as she searches for her mother and a true sense of belonging. But most of all, this is a book about the stories that define us, and those we tell to redefine ourselves. A riveting read.'

Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King

'Jennifer Makumbi is a genius storyteller.'

Reni Eddo-Lodge

'The genius of this novel is in its subtlety: home truths about the treatment of women throughout history are hidden like gems within the utterly engaging tale of a single girl... So, I’m calling it now: The First Woman will soon be considered a coming-of-age classic. And rightly so.'


'A beautifully woven, intricate novel weaving together family history, traditions, cultural norms, history and more.'

Yvonne Battle-Felton, Jhalak Prize judge

'In Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi we have a giant of literature living among us. 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. Makumbi is a supremely gifted writer and The First Woman an astonishing accomplishment.'

Peter Kalu, Jhalak Prize judge

'At turns rapturous and devastating... Makumbi's writing uplifts and inspires, evoking the grand tradition of folklore and stories passed down, one woman to the next.'


'A mesmerizing feminist epic.'

O, the Oprah magazine

'The First Woman is a wonder, as clear, vivid, moving, powerful, and captivatingly unpredictable as water itself... With wry wisdom, great humor, and deep complexity, Makumbi has created a feminist coming-of-age classic for the ages.' 

Namwali Serpell, author of The Old Drift

'With each new work, Makumbi cements her position as a writer of great influence in our time and for future generations.'

Booklist (starred review)

'Makumbi's prose is irresistible and poignant, with remarkable wit, heart and charm — poetic and nuanced, brilliant and sly, openhearted and cunning, balancing discordant truths in wise ruminations. The First Woman rewards the reader with one of the most outstanding heroines and the incredible honor of journeying by her side.'

New York Times

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is a Ugandan novelist and short story writer. She has a PhD from Lancaster University. Her first novel, Kintu (Oneworld, 2018), won the Kwani? Manuscript Project in 2013 and was longlisted for the Etisalat Prize in 2014. She was awarded the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for ‘Let’s Tell This Story Properly’, which featured in her first collection, Manchester Happened (Oneworld, 2019). She was awarded the prestigious Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction 2018 and lives in Manchester, where she lectures in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. In 2020, she was selected as one of 100 Most Influential Africans of 2020 by New African magazine.

Author page

More books by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

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