In less than a month, the 2019 Caine Prize winner will be announced!
For those who are not familiar, the Caine Prize for African Writing, which was first awarded in year 2000, is an award “open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition” (source).
Some notable winners of the Caine Prize include (click on links to my reviews):
- Leila Aboulela, from Sudan (2000) – author of novels Minaret, The Translator, Lyrics Alley, among other works.
- Binyavanga Wainaina, from Kenya (2002) – founding editor of Kwani?, author of memoir One Day I Will Write About This Place and the essay How To Write About Africa found in various literary magazines. *sigh* Rest In Power, Binya!
- Yvonne A. Owuor, from Kenya (2003) – author of the novel, Dust.
- E.C Osondu, from Nigeria (2009) – author of the novel This House is not For Sale and collection Voice of America: stories.
- NoViolet Bulawayo, from Zimbabwe (2011) – author of the novel, We Need New Names.
Previously shortlisted writers include: (2001) Mia Couto from Mozambique, (2002) Chimamanda Adichie from Nigeria, (2006) Laila Lalami from Morocco, (2013) Chinelo Okparanta from Nigeria, (2013) Pede Hollist from Sierra Leone, (2014) Tendai Huchu from Zimbabwe, (2013 & 2015) Elnathan John from Nigeria, among others!
The Caine Prize and the shortlisted stories play huge roles in the authors I read from Africa. Many Caine Prize winners and shortlisted writers have found great success and I’ve reviewed a good number of these writers’ works here on African Book Addict!
This year, the Caine Prize shortlist comprises of five talented writers with unique short stories (left to right):
(Image via caineprize.com)
Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria) – Read her story: Skinned
Meron Hadero (Ethiopia) – Read her story: The Wall
Cherrie Kandie (Kenya) – Read her story: Sew My Mouth
Ngwah-Mbo Nana Nkweti (Cameroon) – Read her story: It Takes A Village Some Say
Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor (Nigeria) – Read his story: All Our Lives
There’s finally some diversity in the countries represented on this year’s shortlist! Ethiopia and Cameroon! And women are dominating, once again – I love it. So far, I’ve only read 3 out of the 5 stories and I’m feeling pretty good about them.
Cherrie Kandie starts Sew My Mouth with- “My lover can only love me behind drawn curtains,” taking readers on a rollercoaster ride of the relationship between two women lovers/friends and their forbidden love. I think I liked Kandie’s short story. The writing was very matter-of-fact, in that, she doesn’t mince her words in her descriptions. She does a great job of gradually creating tension and remorse between the characters, as one of them isn’t quite out as a lesbian, which causes heartbreak and pain (literally). The ending of the story was quite disappointing though. I found it anti-climatic and it left a bitter taste in my mouth. I do hope Kandie is writing a novel though! I’d like to read more of her work.
Tochukwu Okafor’s short story – All Our Lives was very easy to read. I enjoyed how accessible and lucid his writing was. But Okafor’s story is not new to readers of African fiction. It actually reminded me of NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names which I have conflicting feelings about. All Our Lives paints the picture of poverty in a Nigerian city – from the descriptions, probably Lagos, Nigeria. We follow the desperate lives of Yahoo boys/419 boys, trying to catch a break via deceit, ‘The cybercafes are our second home. They are tight spaces on ground floors in one- or two- storey buildings… Do not think we are searching for love. Love does not exist in this city. We are men of the night. Our reward is money.’
Okafor describes the plight of the poor very vividly, constantly reminding readers of the dire conditions in the city. But the ending of this short story had me confused! It briefly describes how some of these Yahoo boys all of a sudden start viewing gay porn and have a ‘longing to be explored by men’ and touches briefly on the consequences of these desires. I found this random mention of same-sex desire too brief, almost oversimplifying the true lives of LGBTQIA in Nigerian cities. For those who’ve read this short story – was the ending as random to you as it was for me?
The Caine Prize shortlist hasn’t been this exciting in years, so obviously I had to read the story by Meron Hadero, from Ethiopia! The Wall is a slow burn type of short story… I actually hope she’s developing this story into a full-fledged novel. I’m assuming the story is semi-autobiographical, as Hadero’s personal life seems to coincide a bit with the main character of the story.
In The Wall, readers follow an un-named young girl refugee, who recently moved to the US with her family from Ethiopia via Berlin. She knows very little English, but is fluent in German and her mother tongue – Amharic. By chance, she meets Professor Weil aka – Herr Weil, at a community potluck who generously offers to teach the young girl English after school, and they form a beautiful friendship. While Herr Weil helps this young girl learn English, he mostly creates space for her to express herself and her feelings about her new environment – in German. As I was reading, I was so scared that this old German man would take advantage of her in someway, but I was pleasantly surprised by his pure heart. There isn’t much to say about this short story with respect to an exciting plot, but Hadero tackles various issues – such as, loneliness, same-sex attraction, courage versus regret, friendship, ageism, the plight of the lives of refugees etc. The ending of this story had me wanting more and I will read anything Hadero writes henceforth!
I haven’t read Lesley Nneka Arimah and Ngwah-Mbo Nana Nkweti’s short stories yet. This year marks the third year of Arimah making the Caine Prize shortlist. I wonder why she continues to compete for the prize, given the success of her short story collection from two years ago… but then again – why not? I raved about Arimah’s phenomenal work back in 2017 via What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky, and I have no doubt that her current shortlisted story is breathtaking.
Even though I haven’t read all the stories yet, my money is on Hadero’s, The Wall to win the prize. It’s truly just a beautiful story. I hope you all get a chance to read some of the stories linked above. May the best story win!
Which story is your favorite? Who do you think will win the Caine Prize this year?
The winner will be announced in London at Senate House Library in partnership with SOAS, on 8th July 2019. Good luck to all the shortlisted candidates!
You can also check out past commentary on the Caine Prize below: