Friday, 7 June 2013

For African Literature, Another Voice Beckons From Within

By Anote Ajeluorou

Africa’s cultural validation always seem to come from outside the continent, but usually with a mixed baggage of the good and the not so-good. This has had the sorry implication of the hunter always telling the story of the hunt usually at the expense of the hunted. It was what Africa’s literary ancestor Chinua Achebe spent most of his life’s career fighting – to retrieve the soul of Africa’s cultural historicity from the one-sided narratives of the West.
  Indeed, Achebe pointedly told the West, represented by the Swedish Academy in 1986, when he declined to attend a conference on African literature (a probable reason why he never got the Nobel Prize for Literature), “I regret I cannot accept your generous invitation for the simple reason that I do not consider it appropriate for African writers to assemble in European capitals in 1986 to discuss the future of their literature. In my humble opinion it smacks too much of those constitutional conferences arranged in London and Paris for our pre-independence political leaders.
  “The fault, however is not with the organisers such as yourselves, but with us the writers of Africa who at this point in time should have outgrown the desire for the easy option of using external platforms instead of grappling with the problem of creating structures of their own at home.
  “Believe me, this is not an attempt to belittle the effort and concern of your organisation or indeed of the Swedish people who have repeatedly demonstrated their solidarity with African aspirations in many different ways. But I strongly believe that the time is overdue for Africans, especially African writers, to begin to take the initiative in deciding the things that belong to their peace”.
  With telecommunication giant Etisalat instituting a new literary contest to further empower African writers and boost writing on the continent, Etisalat Prize for Literature, as homegrown validation for African writing and writers could not have come at a better time. It is indeed another welcome validation. With its handsome 15,000 British pounds prize tag, the Etisalat Prize for African Literature has further opened up the literary space on the continent for young writers to reach the top.
  The Etisalat Prize for African Literature comes against the background of similar prizes already making the round. In Nigeria alone, there’s The Nigerian Prize for Literature, sponsored by gas giant, Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG) company. This prize is strictly for Nigerian authors residing anywhere in the world, and worth $100,000.00. There’s also the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature, a continent-wide prize that will start on a rotational format from next edition next year in all the genres of literature starting with drama. Prose fiction has dominated since inception in 2006. It’s organised by the Dr. Ogochukwu Promise-led Lumina Foundation.
  However, the new prize’s target is unique, as it aims to identify only first-time, new entrants in the literary block and reward them for their first novel, which must be from 30,000 words long.
  The prize entry opened last week, June 5, the launch date, to publishers who have published a minimum of five authors in the last three years. All entries will be vetted and scrutinized by a panel of four pre-selected judges chaired by associate professor in the Department of African Literature at the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa, Pumla Gqola, Other judges are Zaks Mda, Professor of Creative writing at the University of Ohio and winner of the Commonwealth Prize, Billy Kahora, Managing Editor of Kwani? and Sarah Ladipo Manyika, writer and academic.
  These judges will work together to select the long list as well as a shortlist of three novels and finally the winner who will be announced in February 2014.
  The prize’s patrons or board members that will assist the jury include Nigeria’s Prof. Kole Omotoso, Nigeria and Africa’s first black Pulitzer Prize winner, Dele Olojede, Britain’s youngest and first black woman publisher, Margaret Busby, and Zimbabwe’s Ellah Allfrey, Granta’s deputy editor.

ETISALAT MD/CEO, Mr. Steven Evans said his company’s passion for excellence and empowerment was among the values that were at the core of the prize, adding, “The Etisalat Prize for Literature will empower young writers by providing a platform for first time writers of published fiction novels to be discovered. It will also reward excellence in literary writing. We are pleased to have initiated this important project that celebrates literary excellence and creativity in Nigeria and across Africa.
  “We believe literature has the potential to effect change and serve as a catalyst for promoting a cultural revolution. However, it is a field that has been relegated to the background, making African fiction and short story writers to look to international awards for recognition. The Etisalat Prize for Literature is our way of sharing in the passions and aspirations of young and upcoming writers as well as breathing new life into the literary society”.
  He also noted that the aim of Etisalat Prize for Literature was to serve as a viable platform for the discovery of new creative talent from the continent and invariably promote the growing publishing industry in Africa.
  Entries for the prize will be accepted in two categories, namely: Full length English fiction novels and Flash Fiction Short Stories.
  Chair of judges, Pumla Gqoka said quality and excellent writing would be what the judges would be looking for in the entries.
  Etisalat Head, High Value Events and Sponsorship, Ebi Atawode stated that launching the literary prize was a dream come true for her and her company, Etisalat. She enjoined African writers to seize the opportunity to perfect their writing craft and be duly rewarded for it.
  Winner of the prize will also enjoy a fellowship at University of East Anglia’s Creative Writing Programme. 1000 copies of the three shortlisted authors will be purchased by etisalat and distributed to libraries. Other details can be obtained at etisalat website.

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