return Return to Prestige 40 Under 40 Previous
Balli Kaur Jaswal, 38

Balli Kaur Jaswal


There is a fearlessness to Balli’s novels, in which she takes on complex issues from race and mental health to sexuality and dysfunctional family dynamics.

Her books have been published to critical acclaim. Inheritance, Balli’s debut novel about a traditional Punjabi family grappling with issues surrounding castes, gender, sex, identity and belonging, earned her The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelist Award. Her second novel Sugarbread, which highlights minority experiences in Singapore, is a finalist for the Singapore Literature Prize 2018 and the 2015 Epigram Books Fiction Prize.

The provocatively titled Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, released in 2017, was selected by Reese Witherspoon’s book club, with screen rights sold to filmmaker Ridley Scott’s production company. She is currently consulting on the US television series adaptation of her 2019 novel The Unlikely Adventures of the Shergill Sisters, and working on her upcoming title about three Filipina domestic workers setting out to prove the innocence of another domestic worker, who has been accused of murdering her employer.

Beyond novels, Balli has written essays and opinion pieces for The New York Times,, Harper’s Bazaar India and, among other publications. The former writing fellow at the University of East Anglia also teaches extensively, at Yale-NUS College, Nanyang Technological University and workshops around the world, on creative writing, pursuing an artistic career, the power of storytelling, global citizenship and social injustice advocacy through literature.

Many would think her achievements are the awards and recognition for her books, but Balli considers otherwise. “Completing my PhD was a major milestone,” she says. “My dissertation was on rebellious South Asian women in contemporary diaspora literature. Being able to analyse my own creative process and consider the theoretical frameworks behind the work that I love to read and write was a valuable process.”