A BIRTHDAY NIGHT OUT @ SOAS WITH THE CAINE PRIZE FOR AFRICAN WRITING NOMINEES…
What a splendid way to spend your birthday – taking in a few readings and a discussion with five nominees from this year’s Caine Prize for African Writing. As I passed through the subterranean corridors of London University’s School of African, Asian and Middle Eastern Studies in search Khalili lecture theatre the sound of drums transported me back the Adriano Adewale’s pandeiro class at a previous SOAS summer school. It felt good. Outside the theatre I was able to purchase a copy of the book we had come to discuss – The Daily Assortment Of Astonishing Things – and sip on a couple of glasses of red wine while awaiting the arrival of the writers and panel host Dr Gus Casely-Hayford. This was the first of a series of London based events aimed at connecting the writers with potential readers and there was a warm sense of anticipation in the room. Hearing people talk about the context and the process of how they work and experiences of writing is always illuminating.
Now in its 17th year, the Caine Prize for African Writing aims to bring African writing to a wider audience. It doesn’t get the props that the Booker or Whitbread get but the Caine Prize gives a much welcome helping hand to both known and emerging writers from Africa. Along with the book of short stories which they publish annually the Caine Prize deliver a series of events that successfully bring together readers and those writers who have made the shortlist for the prize of £10,000 plus a few other perks. The prize has alerted the publishing mainstream to talents like Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo (‘We Need New names’ was terrific!) and given readers like myself an enticing trail to follow.
The annual Caine Prize writers’ workshop moves from African nation to African nation and this year’s workshop took place on an exclusive game reserve in Zambia. It sounded amazing and in discussion we learn the workshop is the primary source of the stories in the anthology. The six short-listed writers on the panel at SOAS all read a modest passage from their own story and talked about their respective aims and the impact of their own environments, whether in Africa or the US. In the mix was Abdul Adan from Somalia/Kenya who wrote the offbeat ‘The Lifebloom Gift’; Lesley Nneka Arimah, a Nigerian writer living in Minneapolis who penned futuristic ‘What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky’; DC based Nigerian and 2014 Caine Prize winner Tope Folarin (Nigeria) who offered ‘Genesis’ – a tale based in Utah!; Zimbabwe’s Bongani Kona who is a journalist and editorial contributor to Chimurenga who dropped the deep ‘At your Requiem’ and finally, South African writer, filmmaker and photographer, Lidudumalingani, who conjured up ‘Memories We Lost’.
I’m still working my way through the array of short stories in The Daily Assortment Of Astonishing Things but the diverse reflections of those writers on the panel, whether still living on the continent or approaching life from a diasporic perspective, continue to resonate. Reading their stories informs and enhances the reader’s own world. They diffuse myths and stereotypes and offer insights and a touch of magic. Seek out the Caine prize anthologies and the works of previous winners – many of whom, prior to discovering these anthologies, I’d sadly never heard of!
STOP PRESS: Lidudumalingani wins seventeenth Caine Prize with “multi-layered, gracefully narrated story”.
The Daily Assortment Of Astonishing Things Caine Prize Anthology is published by New Internationalist in the UK and publishers in eight African countries including, Jacana Media (South Africa), Cassava Republic (Nigeria), Kwani? (Kenya), Sub-Saharan Publishers (Ghana), FEMRITE (Uganda), Gadsen Publishers (Zambia), ‘amaBooks (Zimbabwe) and Langaa (Cameroon).