Essay collection about race in Britain named readers’ book of 2016

A collection of essays about migration, stereotypes and race in Britain written entirely by BAME writers has been selected as UK readers’ favourite book for 2016, seeing off Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and The Girl on the Train to take the top prize.

With more than 50,000 votes cast online and in bookshops around the UK, The Good Immigrant was picked by readers as their favourite book of the past 12 months. The editor, author Nikesh Shukla, was presented with the award at the inaugural Books Are My Bag Readers awards at a ceremony in London.

Shukla was inspired to create the book after reading a comment on a Guardian article online that said he was not famous enough to be included in the piece. Shukla was annoyed because of the “constant anxiety we feel as people of colour to justify our space, to show that we have earned our place at the table, continues to hound us”.

Shukla placed a listing on crowdfunding publisher Unbound and funded the publication of the book in just three days, including a £5,000 donation from JK Rowling. Other authors who made pledges include David Nicholls, Jonathan Coe and Evie Wyld.

Contributors in The Good Immigrant include the actor Riz Ahmed, who wrote about his frustrations at being frequently stopped by airport security while flying for his work, and Buzzfeed writer Bim Adewumni, who wrote about tokenism in popular culture. More broadly, the book explores the various reasons people migrate to the UK and the concepts of belonging and home, especially when migrants are made to feel unwelcome.

Shukla writes in a piece for this coming Saturday’s Guardian Review that he found winning “particularly gratifying”.

Writer Nikesh Shukla

Writer Nikesh Shukla. Photograph: Chris Lawson/PR

“I’ve been told by publishers, on multiple occasions, that ‘books by ethnic minorities don’t sell’ and also that ‘we only publish the best books’. The first one is always insulting, because it reduces my skin colour to a marketing trend, and not a very lucrative one, which is preposterous,” he writes. “And the best books? Are we really so sure, in this subjective taste-driven industry, that the best books are out there?”

Dan Kieran, CEO and cofounder of Unbound, said: “Having seen the groundswell of support for The Good Immigrant in bookshops, the media and online word of mouth while it was being funded, the fact that it’s been a massive success is no surprise to us.”

Alan Staton, of the Books Are My Bag campaign, said: “At the end of a turbulent year, the faith that book-lovers have shown The Good Immigrant and the affection in which it is held, is so affirming. It’s the book of the moment in so many ways and I’m delighted that it’s won.”

The Books Are My Bag Readers awards also give prizes for best fiction, non-fiction, biography and autobiography, children’s books and breakthrough author. Max Porter won the best fiction award for Grief is the Thing with Feathers, his tale of a widower and his young sons, while novelist Matt Haig took the non-fiction prize for his book about depression, Reasons to Stay Alive.

Travel writer Bill Bryson won the biography award for his account of travelling around the UK, The Road to Little Dribbling, while Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson won the children’s prize for her picture book The Detective Dog. Joanna Cannon was named the breakthrough author of 2016, for her debut novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep.

The awards are sponsored by National Book Tokens and is the first book award where the shortlist is curated by bookshops and voted for by readers. The readers’ choice award is entirely voted for by readers, while an additional category for beautiful books – which went to The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry – is chosen by bookshops.