Sunday, 8 March 2015

Nigerian, two S’ Africans in race for 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature

By Anote Ajeluorou

As the countdown to the second edition of Etisalat Prize for African Literature begins, a Nigeria, Chnelo Okparanta (Happiness, Like Water – Granta Publication) and two South Africans – Songeziwe Mahlangu (Pen Umbra – published by Kwela Books, imprint of NB Publishers) and Nadia Davids (An Imperfect Blessing – Random House Struik-Umuzi) – are in a keen race for the top prize worth 15,000 British Pounds Sterling for their first published prose fiction works.
  This year’s edition has British-Nigerian Prof. Sarah Ladipo Manyika, as chair of judges alongside Zimbabwe’s Tsitsi Dangarembga, Alain Mabanckou and British-Sudanese Jamal Mahjouh. According Manyika, "From a strong longlist we are now delighted to announce this year’s shortlist which showcases hitherto untold stories from across the continent and beyond. Whether it is David’s multigenerational family story set in Cape Town’s Muslim community at the dawn of the new South Africa, or Okparanta’s bittersweet tales of loss and love in Nigeria and abroad, or Mahlangu’s unflinching exploration of mental illness set in contemporary South Africa, each of these books is uniquely compelling. This is a shortlist that delights in the newness of the topics being explored and in the diversity of narrative form. From short stories, to the short novel, to the epic novel – each is a gem in its own right".
  Equally excited at the authors and books this year’s contest has thrown up is the Chief Executive Officer of Etisalat Nigeria, Mr. Matthew Willsher, who said, “The entries are a fulfillment of Etisalat’s goal of encouraging talents and improving literacy in the African continent. We commend the judges for the work they have done so far on this year’s competition and we are delighted with the strong shortlist which will ensure that a worthy winner will emerge. We will continue to encourage and recognize upcoming talents”.
  Dangarembga could not hide her joy at the shortlist as well when she said, “This shortlist is a joyous celebration of a new range in the voices of debut African writers. It says much of what contemporary Africa is offering the world".
  On Friday, March 13, the three writers will be introduced to the Lagos literati at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, in a book reading session. They will read excerpts from their books and respond to questions from the audience on their writing career. The session will provide opportunity for these writers to showcase their works and deepen the value of the telecommunication giant’s intervention in the literary art. The reading session will lead up to the prize award proper, which will hold two days later on Sunday, March 15, 2015, at Intercontinental Hotel, Kofo Abayomi Street, Victoria Hotel, Lagos.
  The maiden edition of the prize had Bom Boy by Nigeria’s South Africa-based Yewande Omotoso, Finding Soutbek by South Africa’s Karen Jennings and We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo, as best three from an array of works from all over Africa. At the prize award, Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo emerged winner. Like the Caine Prize for African Writing, the winner is given a scholarship to study creative writing at University of East Anglia in the U.K., with Prof. Giles Foden, author of Last King of Scotland, as mentor. Bulawayo gifted her scholarship to runners-up,  Omotoso.
  At its first edition, then Etisalat MD/CEO, Mr. Steven Evans, said his company’s passion for excellence and empowerment was among the reasons that led to establishing the prize. He stated, “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”.
  The need to have a homegrown prize award that honours emerging African talent in writing is perhaps the greatest value Etisalat Nigeria has added to Africa’s cultural milieu. This second edition is further validation of Evans’ hope just as the continent looks forward to who will again go home with the 15 Pounds sterling prize.

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