Tuesday, July 12, 2005

afolabi of nigeria wins the caine prize

Segun Afolabi with bust of Sir Michael Caine Posted by Picasa

This year's winner of the $15,000 Caine Prize for African Writing, Nigerian-born Segun Afolabi, has had a succession of stories published in some of the most prestigious literary magazines in Britain. They include the London Magazine, Wasafiri, Edinburgh Review and Pretext.

Afolabi won the prize for his story "Monday Morning", published in the spring 2004 issue of Wasafiri. He is set to make a high-profile debut in the book world when Jonathan Cape (part of Random House) publishes his short story collection "A Life Elsewhere." The collection was due to be published next April, but now that Afolabi has won the Caine Prize the publication date may be brought forward. The collection will be followed by Afolabi's first novel, "Goodbye Lucille", due to be published by Cape in early 2007.

The Caine Prize was established in 2000 in memory of Sir Michael Caine, the businessman lover of literature and of Africa who was for nearly 25 years the chairman of the Booker Prize management committee.

The chairman of the judges, Baroness Young, announced that Afolabi had won the prize at the prize-giving dinner held on July 4 in the Divinity School at the Bodleian library, Oxford University.
She described "Monday Morning" as "a very fresh, elegantly written tale which gave us an insight into the perspectives of a family who escaped torture and mutilation in their own country to arrive in London, which for them is a city of misunderstandings and hostility."

When I met Afolabi the day after the won the prize, he told me that he is halfway through the year he has taken off from full-time employment in order to write his second novel. He has been trying to get by on as little money as possible, and the prize has come as a "big boost". Afolabi's past jobs have included working as a subeditor on the Radio Times and as an assistant content producer for BBC digital radio.

Afolabi was born in Kaduna in 1966. His father's work as a diplomat took the family to live in countries including Congo, Canada, Indonesia, Japan and Hong Kong. When Afolabi was nine, he was sent to school in England and later on he read management studies at Cardiff University, Wales.

While at school Afolabi developed a passion for literature, and he continued to read voraciously at university, getting through the entire works of James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck and others. His favourite writers today also include Caryl Phillips, Jamaica Kincaid, Lorrie Moore and Jhumpa Lahiri.

It was while working in a London bookshop that Afolabi attended evening classes in creative writing at the City Lit Institute, under the tutorship of the poet and novelist Alison Fell. His first published story, "Jumbo and Jacinta", appeared in the London Magazine around 10 years ago. It is a quirky tale about a very overweight husband and his nagging wife, from St Lucia, visiting Niagara Falls in Canada.

One recurring theme in Afolabi's stories is people moving to other countries and "trying to negotiate their lives." His novel "Goodbye Lucille" is set in Berlin, Nigeria and London. The central character is a young Nigerian photographer, and the novel is informed by Afolabi's experience of living in East Berlin where his father was posted in the mid-1980s before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The novel has comedic aspects and "I set it in Berlin partly because it is a very eccentric city."

Afolabi is halfway through the first draft of his new novel, but smilingly fends off enquiries with "I tend not to talk about a work in progress." He is greatly looking forward to attending the Caine writers' workshop to be held in Kenya next year.

Susannah Tarbush
Saudi Gazette
July 12 2005

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