Sunday, May 15, 2011

caine prize shortlist announced

Caine Prize shortlist (no writer from North Africa, again)
Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette 15 May 2011

The composition of the newly-announced shortlist for the Caine Prize for African Writing 2011 once again reflects the strength of South Africa on the continent’s literary map. As last year, two of the five shortlisted authors are from South Africa: Tim Keegan with the story “What Molly Knew” and David Medalie with “The Mistress’s Dog”. Last year saw South Africans Alex Smith and Ken Barris shortlisted – but the £10,000 prize went to Sierra Leonean Olufemi Terry [pictured below with bust of Sir Michael Caine] for his story “Stickfighting Days”.

The other shortlistees this year are Beatrice Lamwaka of Uganda for “Butterfly Dreams”, NoViolet Bulawayo of Zimbabwe for “Hitting Budapest”, and Lauri Kubuitsile of Botswana with “In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata”. This is the first time a writer from Botswana has made the shortlist.

The winner will be announced on 11 July at the Caine prizegiving dinner, held in the historic Divinity School of Oxford University’s Bodleian Library. The writers will read and discuss their stories at the Royal Over-Seas League in London on 8 July, and at the London Literature Festival two days later.

Publishers submitted 126 entries from 17 countries for the prize. The chair of the judges, prizewinning Libyan novelist Hisham Matar, said: “Choosing a shortlist out of nearly 130 entries was not an easy task – one made more difficult and yet more enjoyable by the varied tastes of the judges – but we have arrived at a list of five stories that excel in quality and ambition.”

In Matar’s view the stories taken together “represent a portrait of today’s African short story: its wit and intelligence, its concerns and preoccupations.”

Matar’s fellow judges are the award-winning British-Sierra Leonean author Aminatta Forna (pictured; currently shortlisted for the Orange Prize for her novel “The Memory of Love”); Granta deputy editor Ellah Allfrey; publisher and film and travel writer Vicky Unwin, and poet and Georgetown University Washington DC Professor David Gewanter. The prize includes, in addition to its cash component, the opportunity of a one-month residency at the university known as a ‘Caine Prize/Georgetown University Writer in Residence’.

The Caine Prize was founded in 2000 in memory of Sir Michael Caine, former chairman of Booker plc and Chairman of the Booker Prize management committee for nearly 25 years. It is awarded for a short story of 3,000 to 10,000 words by an African writer published in English. The story may be written in English or published in English translation.

The 2011 shortlistee with the longest track record of published fiction is novelist and short story writer David Medalie [pictured] a professor in the English Department at the University of Pretoria. His first short story collection, “The Shooting of the Christmas Cows”, won the Ernst van Heerden Award before publication in 1990.

Medalie’s shortlisted story “The Mistress’s Dog” focuses on an ageing widow who has been left caring for the elderly dog of her husband’s late mistress. She reflects on her life and how she lived with her secret knowledge of the affair between the mistress and her husband who was the mistress’s boss.

The story was first published in New Contrast magazine in 2006 and won the Thomas Pringle Award in 2008. It appears in the collection of stories by Medalie “The Mistress’s Dog: Short stories 1996-2010” published by Picador Africa.

Tim Keegan made an intriguing career switch in his 40s, from university history author and professor to crime writer. “I don’t regard myself as primarily a crime/thriller writer, but my novels certainly involve crime,” he says. His shortlisted story “What Molly Knew” is in the crime anthology “Bad Company” published by Pan Macmillan SA in 2008.

The Molly of the title is the estranged mother of Sarah. When Sarah is murdered, suspicion falls on her psychologist husband, whom Molly detests. The blog ‘International Noir Fiction’ describes the story as “a study of the strained dynamic of family and race.”

Botswana writer Lauri Kubuitsile’s story “In the Spirit of McPhineas Lata” was published by Modjaji Books SA in “The Bed Book of Short Stories”. The robustly funny story begins with the death of McPhineas Lata “the perennial bachelor who made a vocation of troubling married women” in the village of Nokanyana. The husbands of the many wives mourning him resolve to discover and then apply the secret of how McPhineas satisfied their wives.

Lauri [pictured] is the author of 14 published books, and her short stories have won many prizes. Her third romance novel “Mr Quite-Not-Good-Enough” is to be published in August and her young adult novel “Signed, Hopelessly in Love” will also be published this year.

NonViolet Bulawayo [pictured] of Zimbabwe has been a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) student at Cornell University. Her story “Hitting Budapest” appeared in “The Boston Review”. It features a gang of six young children, including a pregnant 10-year-old, roaming and stealing guavas in an abandoned formerly wealthy residential area.

Ugandan writer Beatrice Lamwaka’s shortlisted story appears in “Butterfly Dreams and Other New Short Stories from Uganda” published by Critical, Cultural and Communications Press of Nottingham, England. The harrowing story concerns a former girl rebel soldier who had been abducted from her family at 11. She returns home four years later and has great difficulty in overcoming her trauma and finding a place for herself. Events are seen through the eyes of one of her siblings.

Beatrice was one of 12 writers invited to the 2011 Caine Prize workshop held in Buea, Cameroon. The 12 participants, from seven African countries, were guided by VĂ©ronique Tadjo of Ivory Coast, and Jamal Mahjoub of Sudan. Both Tadjo and Mahjoub have served as Caine Prize judges, and Mahjoub was shortlisted for the prize in 2002.

The annual workshop is one way in which the Caine Prize helps nurture and develop African writing talent. Each year a Caine anthology is published containing the five stories shortlisted that year plus stories written at the most recent Caine workshop.

This year’s anthology is entitled “To See the Mountain, and Other Stories”. It will be published in the UK by New Internationalist Publications, in South Africa by Jacana Media and in Nigeria by Cassava Republic Press. The workshop stories in the anthology include “Dark Triad” by last year’s Caine winner Olufemi Terry and “Bottled Memory” by Beatrice Lamwaka.

In its first year, 2000, the Caine Prize was won by the Egyptian-Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela, for her story “The Museum”. Aboulela has gone on to establish a high-flying international literary career and her third novel, “Lyrics Alley”, was longlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize.

But since 2000 few Arab writers have made the shortlist. Apart from Mahjoub, those who have made it include Tunisian Hassounah Mosbahi (in translation from French), Moroccan Leila Lalami and Somali Nuruddin Farah.

During a seminar on Libyan fiction held at the London Book Fair in April, the chair of this year’s Caine judges Hisham Matar [pictured] shed some light on why the Arab presence in the Caine Prize might be low. He made his comments to an African woman in the audience who had wanted to know why Libyan writers turn their backs on Africa and affiliate with the Arab literary scene.

Matar said a main reason was the Arabic language and a shared culture. This is the third year he has been a judge for the Caine Prize. The stories submitted can be originally written in any language, as long as they have then been published in English translation. But “the overwhelming majority, almost 90 per cent of the stories we get, have been written in English or in French. The cultural life of the continent when it comes to literature exists predominantly in these two languages.”

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