Tuesday, June 06, 2006

african women writers dominate caine shortlist

Mary Watson
African women writers are surging ahead of their male counterparts, to judge by this year’s shortlist for the Caine Prize for African Writing. Four of the five shortlisted writers are female. The solitary man is South African Darrel Bristow-Bovey, whose shortlisted entry “A Joburg story” was published in “African Compass – New Writing from Southern Africa 2005”.

The Caine Prize, worth $15,000, is awarded annually for the best story by an African writer of between 3,000 and 15,000 words. The story must already have been published in English. The prize will be awarded at a dinner in Oxford University’s Bodleian Library on July 10.

The Caine Prize has a value far beyond its relatively modest monetary value. It offers the shortlisted authors the opportunity to come to London to take part in readings of their work and to meet literary agents, publishers and members of the media. The prize has boosted the careers of previous winners.

This year there were 110 qualifying entries from 21 African countries, the highest figure in the prize’s history. The chair of the panel of judges Dr Nana Wilson of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University, says: “The overall quality of submissions was high this year. We had an exciting blend of themes and styles, a marked focus on family relationships and a rich mapping of the varied physical and social landscapes of Africa.”

There is one North African writer on this year’s shortlist, Moroccan Laila Lalami who currently lives in Portland, Oregon. She is shortlisted for “The Fanatic”, part of her novel “Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits” published by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Last year’s prize was won by Nigerian Segun Afolabi, whose first short story collection “A Life Elsewhere” was recently published by Jonathan Cape. This year’s shortlist includes Nigerian Sefi Atta for “The Last Trip” published in “Chimurenga 8”.

Mary Watson of South Africa is shortlisted for “Jungfrau” from her short story collection “Moss” published by Kwela Books. Kenyan Muthoni Garland is shortlisted for “Tracking the Scent of My Mother” which originally appeared in “Seventh Street Alchemy: A Selection of Writings from the Caine Prize for African Writing.”

The Caine Prize was set up in 2000 in memory of Sir Michael Caine, the former Chairman of Booker plc and chairman of the Booker Prize management committee for almost 25 years.

An indication of the growing profile of the Caine Prize is that this year for the first time the shortlisted writers will read from their work at an event organised by the South Bank Centre, hosted on July 11 by the Channel 4 news presenter Jon Snow. This is in addition to the regular annual events at the Royal Over-Seas League on July 6, and at the Institute for English Studies, University of London on July 12.

Sefi Atta

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette, June 6 2006

No comments: