Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Nigeria's Rotimi Babatunde wins the 2012 Caine Prize

Rotimi Babatunde Baroness Emma Nicholson with the bust of Sir Michael Caine

Rotimi Babatunde of Nigeria was last night awarded the 2012 Caine Prize for African Writing, described as Africa’s leading literary award, for his short story Bombay's Republic first published in 'Mirabilia Review' Vol. 3.9 (Lagos, 2011). Babatunde is the fourth Nigerian to have won the prize in its 13-year existence; Nigeria has produced more Caine winners than any other African country.

The Chair of Judges, Bernardine Evaristo MBE, announced Babatunde's award at a dinner held in the Bodleian Library's Divinity School, Oxford University. Evaristo said: “Bombay's Republic vividly describes the story of a Nigerian soldier fighting in the Burma campaign of World War Two. It is ambitious, darkly humorous and in soaring, scorching prose exposes the exploitative nature of the colonial project and the psychology of Independence.”

The 13th Caine Prize, worth £10,000, was awarded by Baroness Emma Nicholson, President of the Caine Council. The prize was founded in 2000 in memory of Nicholson's late husband Sir Michael Caine, a lover of Africa and of literature who was Chairman of Booker plc and Chairman of the Booker Prize management committee for nearly 25 years.

Like previous winners of the Caine Prize, Babatunde has the opportunity to go to Georgetown University in the US as a writer-in-residence for a month at the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice. The award will cover all travel and living expenses. Babatunde will also be invited to take part in the Open Book Festival in Cape Town in September 2012 and events hosted by the Museum of African Art in New York in November.

Babatunde, who lives in Ibadan, told the BBC's Network Africa programme that he felt happy to have his story recognised and privileged to have been on such a strong and diverse shortlist. His story is "about liberation and how a character can have his world widened," It tells of  "African soldiers who go to Burma and came back with a sense of new realities and new possibilities." The boundaries that the main character, Bombay, witnessed in Nigeria fell away during the heat of the campaign, he explained. "He lost his reverence for the colonial officers". He told he BBC he is now working on a novel about migration, choice and love.

Babatunde will be participating in three events this week. Today he  is in conversation with Nii Parkes, Jose Eduardo Agualusa and Dinaw Mengistu in London's Southbank Centre’s Level 5 Function Room at 6.30pm. A seminar on African Writing will be held tomorrow Wednesday 4 July at 1pm at the Anatomy Museum, King’s College London. Babtunde will also take part in an event at Manchester Art Gallery on Thursday 5 July at 8pm, part of the public programme for We Face Forward: Art from West Africa Today.

Babatunde’s fiction and poems have been published in Africa, Europe and America in journals which include Die Aussenseite des Elementes and Fiction on the Web, and in anthologies such as Little Drops and A Volcano of Voices.

He is a winner of the Meridian Tragic Love Story Competition organised by the BBC World Service and his plays have been staged and presented by institutions which include the Halcyon Theatre, Chicago and the Institute for Contemporary Arts.

He is currently taking part in a collaboratively produced piece at the Royal Court and the Young Vic as part of World Stages for a World City. The Royal Court explains: "The journey of Yoruba culture, tradition and religion, as it moved through slavery from West Africa to the Americas, is one of the most powerful stories of exploitation, resistance and survival that has never been told.

"The Royal Court Theatre has been working with playwrights from five countries where the Yoruban legacy has had great impact on contemporary life." The collaborative piece, entitled Sugar, is written by Babatunde and Yunior García Aguilera (Cuba), Marcos Barbosa (Brazil), Tanya Barfield (US) and Gbolohan Obisesan (UK. It is directed by Rufus Norris. Details of the dates and venue of the production have yet to be announced.

The other four shortlisted writers for the 2012 Caine Prize were Billy Kahora of Kenya for Urban Zoning; Stanley Kenani of Malawi for  Love on Trial; Melissa Tandiwe Myambo of Zimbabwe for  La Salle de Départ; and Constance Myburgh (the pen name of Jenna Bass) of South Africa for Hunter Emmanuel.

The chair of this year's judges, Bernardine Evaristo, is the award-winning author of six books of fiction and verse fiction. Her new novel, Mr Loverman, will be published by Penguin in 2013. A literary critic who teaches creative writing at Brunel University, she is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Society of Arts.

Evaristo's fellow judges were cultural journalist Maya Jaggi; Zimbabwean poet, songwriter and writer Chirikure Chirikure; Associate Professor at Georgetown University, Washington DC Samantha Pinto; and the Sudanese CNN television correspondent Nima Elbagir.

Last year the Caine Prize was won by Zimbabwean writer NoViolet Bulawayo. She has subsequently been awarded the highly regarded two-year Stegner Writing Fellowship at Stanford University, in the US and her debut novel, We Need New Names, is forthcoming from Little, Brown in North America and Chatto and Windus in the UK.

Previous winners are Sudan’s Leila Aboulela (2000), Nigerian Helon Habila (2001), Kenyan Binyavanga Wainaina (2002), Kenyan Yvonne Owuor (2003), Zimbabwean Brian Chikwava (2004), Nigerian Segun Afolabi (2005), South African Mary Watson (2006), Ugandan Monica Arac de Nyeko (2007), South African Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008), Nigerian EC Osondu (2009) and Sierra Leonean Olufemi Terry (2010).
by Susannah Tarbush
Pictures courtesy of The Caine Prize 

No comments: