On Monday 8th july, literary enthusiasts in Africa and indeed the world will have their eyes fixed on the Bodleian library in Oxford. The occasion is the announcement of the winner of the 2013 Caine prize, the second biggest prize in literature these days an African can think of after the Nobel prize
The Caine prize was established in 2000, shortly after the death of Sir Michael Caine who headed many literary bodies including the Booker prize management committee, the Africa 95 arts festival in Europe and Africa in 1995 among others. The Caine Prize website states ‘Shortly before he died, Sir Michael Caine was working on the idea of a prize to encourage the growing recognition of the worth of African writing in English, its richness and diversity, by bringing it to a wider audience. His friends and colleagues decided to carry this idea forward and establish a prize of $10,000 to be awarded annually in his honor’
Since its inception the prize has presented to the surface many worthy winners and shortlistees who have gone ahead to make glittering strides in African literature including Chimamanda Adichie, Helon Habila, Chika Unigwe, Binyavanga Wainaina amongst an almost endless list
The headline maker this year has been the Nigerian dominance. Four Nigerians out of the five shortlisted, with the exception being Sierra Leon’s Arthur Inipede Hollist, whom a few has labeled as a ‘half Nigerian’ echoing Nigeria’s overall dominance of the prize, and by extension African writing.
I can imagine the shortlistees reading and analyzing the shortlisted works, secretly, weighing their chances and having sleepness nights surfing through the internet googling each other, july 8th should be a millennium away
As if the Caine organizers imposed the themes on them, the writers all wrote about the same things, the very things plaguing Africa today: Faulty leadership and its attendant woes. If I could have my way, I would lock African heads of state, both past and present, in a large comfortable room, they should be forced to read and analyze these stories within themselves. They should see the mess they created. They should know why Balogun couldn’t understand why a Sierra Leonian child would think of studying aeronautics In Nigeria, of all places. They should know why policemen would want to steal from an accident scene. They should know why one African in America represents thirty back home. And, they should know why the children of Bayan Layi had to sleep under the kukah tree. I agree with the shortlistees, art shouldn’t be for its own sake, it should mean
Having read the stories, here is MY countdown
5. Tope Folarin ‘Miracle’
Published by transition magazine, Tope Folarin’s MIRACLE lampoons an ugly, increasingly growing trend in modern Africa: The rise of religion and a relegation of reason, just like medieval Europe. Any one who has been a Christian, even on an average level can easily relate to this story. Folarin makes a good use of the English language, no word is wasted, no sentence is mangled. Although the judges are likely not to focus on that area, MIRACLE has a not so ambitious storyline, although the fact that the author made generous use of humour excuses that fact.
I rate this a 6/10 and place it fifth position
Written by a fellow Fidelity Bank International Creative writing Workshop alumni, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Parresia’s WHISPERING TREES naturally has my support and prayers. Abubakar exhibits his individualism in this work, he showcases his passion for surrealism and expressionism. It is a work vaguely akin to a Disney classic.
A young man survives an auto crash. He loses his degree, his saintly girlfriend, his mother and his sight. In his recuperating days he drowns in a pool of lethargy. The harpless character in his unquantifiable misery finds solace in the real beauties of the earth. There is a soul searching that helps him find a fascinating connect with nature. He begins to see souls, souls of man, beast and flora. He is led to the fabled whispering trees where he unearths secrets that would provide closure for both himself and a childhood friend.
This work comes 4th in my rankings with a 7/10 ratings
This is the only work in the shortlist not written in the first person narrative. Pede Hollist’s FOREIGN AID, published by the Journal of Progressive human services, is about a Sierra Leonian who leaves the United States for the first time since his about 25 years, to visit his family in Leon. He finds, in difficult realities that the rot in Leon far exceeded what he anticipated. He becomes like a rat scurrying inside a bucket. He leaves for the States on schedule, completely defeated. It is an interesting story albeit a somewhat anticlimactic ending
3rd for the list and 8/10 in ratings
Elnathan John, by name alone is an underdog, but by the literary merits of BAYAN LAYI, he is a potential winner. John hacks into the heart of violence through the eyes of a 14, maybe 15 year old destitute. This work, studded with violence, makes the reader feel pity for the aggressors who actually are victims of a failed a system. The strength of this work lies mostly in the authors successful use of a teenagers mind consistently. BAYAN LAYI ties with AMERICA on ratings 9/10, however, for the sheer fact that there must be a number one in every top-something, BAYAN LAYI takes number two spot.
Granta’s America by Chinelo Okparanta is the most idealistic work in the shortlist. Okparanta’s attempt to tackle the gay relationship side in Africa is indeed courageous and commendable. This is a topic African writers have been too timid to mirror, as if it doesn’t exist. Other themes in the work tackles oil exploration in the Niger Delta, a lackluster central government, a general indifference to revolution amongst Nigerians and ultimately Okparanta challenges those selling the idea of an Utopian America. Imposing storyline apart, Okparanta’s eye for detail and descriptive skills are superior, she uses the English language with a first language ease
She takes number one spot. With a 9/10 ratings
It is my hope that come July 8th I would eat my words and bury my head in ash. Cheers
Julius Bokoru is a poet, essayist, reviewer and short story writer. Several of his works have been published on local and international literary magazines. He resides in Yenagoa, where he is at the head of various literary associations. He has attended every major writing workshop in Nigeria, and is the founder and editor of the Izon Writers Review