Newly named Caine Prize winner Namwali Serpell says that her “act of mutiny” — as she calls it — was premeditated. The literary prize, awarded annually to just one African writer for a short story written in English, comes with a hefty financial reward — just over $15,000. The Zambian writer says she’d dreamed up her mutiny days before the Monday ceremony: If she should win, she’d split that sum with her fellow nominees.

“It’s such a wonderful group of people, such a cohesive group of writers,” she says in an interview with NPR. “And it just felt weird and sad that we were now going to be pitted against each other in some kind of battle royal. I think, for the writers obviously, literature’s not a competitive sport.”

Caine Prize Winner: Literature Is Not A Competitive Sport

Image: Namwali Serpell, this year’s winner of the Caine Prize. (Courtesy of the Caine Prize for African Writing)


African Fiction Writers You Should Know

1. Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (The Whispering Trees)
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, born in Jos, Nigeria, writes prose, poetry and drama. His debut collection of short stories The Whispering Trees, published by Paressia, was longlisted for the 2013 Etisalat Prize for African Literature, and the title story shortlisted for the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing. His was the only story published on the continent to be shortlisted for the Caine Prize that year. He is the arts editor at the Abuja-based Sunday Trust. He was a mentor on the 2013 Writivism programme, facilitated the Abuja Writivism workshop in 2014 and judged the 2014 Writivism Short Story Prize. He also facilitated the Caine Short Story surgery at the 2014 Port Harcourt Book Festival.

2. Chika Unigwe (Night Dancer)
Chika Unigwe, born in Enugu, Nigeria, writes fiction in English and Dutch. She was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2003 and won the BBC Short Story competition and the Commonwealth Short Story competition in 2004. Her debut novel De Feniks, written in Dutch and published in 2005, was shortlisted for the Vrouw en Kultuur debuutprijs prize. It was later published in Nigeria by Farafina Publishers in 2007 as The Phoenix. In 2009, her novel On Black Sisters’ Street was published by Jonathan Cape and won the Nigeria Prize for Literature in 2012. 

3. Dilman Dila (A Killing in the Sun)
Dilman Dila, born in Tororo, Uganda, writes fiction and makes films. He was longlisted for the Short Story Day Africa prize in 2013 and 2014, shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story prize in 2013 for A Killing in the Sun, and nominated for the 2008 Million Writers Awards. He has also been longlisted for the BBC International Radio Playwriting Competition for Toilets are for Something Fishy. His film Felista’s Fables has won and been nominated for various awards, from the Uganda Film Festival awards to the Africa Movie Academy Awards and the Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards. His short story collection A Killing in the Sun was published in 2014 by Black Letter Media. His novella Cranes Crest at Sunset was published by Storymoja in 2013 andThe Terminal Move by Fox and Raven Publishing also in 2013.

4. Emmanuel Sigauke (Mukoma’s Marriage and other stories)
Emmanuel Sigauke, born in Zimbabwe writes fiction and poetry. He teaches English at Cosumnes River College and Creative Writing at University of Carlifornia Davis. His work has appeared in Horizon, The Pedestal, NR Review, African Writing Online, StoryTime, Tsotso, The Rattle Review, and Arts Initiates, among others. He edits Tule Review, Cosumnes River Journal, and Poetry Now and founded Munyori Literary Journal. Mukoma’s Marriage and other stories, published in 2014, is his first collection of short stories.

6. Melissa Kiguwa (Reveries of Longing)
Melissa Kiguwa describes herself as “an artist, a daughter, and a radical feminist.” Her debut collection of poetry, Reveries of Longing, was published in 2014 by African Perspectives. She was long-listed for the 2014 Writivism Short story prize for the story The Wound of Shrinking. She now studies at the London School of Economics.

5. Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (Kintu)
Jennifer Makumbi, born in Uganda is a novelist and short story writer. She won the inaugural Kwani? Manuscript prize in 2013. Kwani Trust went on to publish the novel Kintu in 2014. In the same year, she won the Commonwealth short story prize with Let us Tell This Story Properly. Her other short fiction has been published by African Writing Online, Granta, Moss Side Stories, among others. She studied at Manchester Metropolitan University and Lancaster University for her Masters and Doctoral degrees respectively.

9. Zukiswa Wanner (London Cape Town Joburg)
Zukiswa Wanner, born in Zambia to a South African father and a Zimbabwean mother, is a writer. Her debut novel, The Madams, was shortlisted for the K. Sello Duiker Award in 2007. It was followed by Behind Every Successful Man, published by Kwela in 2008, Men of the South, also by the same publisher in 2010. Men of the South was shortlisted for the 2011 Commonwealth Writers Prize. Her latest novel, London Cape Town Joburg, was published by Kwela in 2014. She was named one of the Hay Festival’s Africa39 authors. She sits on the Writivism Board of Trustees and started the ReadSA initiative to encourage South Africans to read African books.

7. Novuyo Rosa Tshuma (Shadows)
Novuyo Rosa Tshuma, born in Zimbabwe, is a fiction writer. Her debut novella and collection of short stories was published by Kwela in 2013. Her stories have appeared in various publications, including the 2010 Caine Prize Anthology and African Roar. She won the 2009 Yvonne Vera Award and the Herman Charles Bosman Prize for English Fiction with Shadows. She is currently a Maytag Fellow at the MFA Creative Writing Programme at the University of Iowa and one of the 39 writers named by the Hay Festival as potential influences on future African Literature.

8. Yewande Omotoso (Bom Boy)
Yewande Omotoso, born in Barbados to a Nigerian father and a West Indian mother, is a writer and an architect. Her debut novel Bom Boy, published in 2011 by Modjaji Books, won the 2012 South African Literary Award for First-Time Published Author, was shortlisted for the 2012 Sunday Times Fiction Prize in South Africa as well as the M-Net Literary Awards 2012, and was the runner-up for the 2013 Etisalat Prize for Literature. (source)

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Dedicated to the Cultural Preservation of the African Aesthetic

Zimbabwean woman takes home Caine Prize for powerful short story, “Hitting Budapest”

For our readers who might be unfamiliar with your work, can you briefly tell us what type of literary pieces you’re interested in writing, and what your award-winning story “Hitting Budapest” is about?

I’m interested in literature that engages with real social issues, and I love language for its beauty if done properly, as well as great storytelling for how it allows us to experience other worlds, so my pieces try to embody these things (…).

NoViolet Bulawayo, Author

NoViolet Bulawayo on Man Booker Prize 2013 Longlist

Zimbabwean writer NoViolet Bulawayo has been named to the Man Booker Prize longlist for her novel We Need New Names, her first novel which was released earlier this year to great reviews (including one by the New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani).

Bulawayo won the Caine in 2011 for her short story ’Hitting Budapest’ after completing an MFA at Cornell University. She is currently a Stegner Fellow at Stanford.

Learn more about We Need New Names via Ellah Allfrey for NPR

Like NoViolet’s Facebook page:

I read Okwiri Oduor’s short story that won the Caine Prize and have been mulling over this since:

Everyone has people that belong to them.” 
The old man laughed. “Only the food you have already eaten belongs to you.”

I sometimes think we are obsessed with belonging. With owning (people… things…). I truly wonder why. 

Image via

Today in Book News: Pakistani writer Jamil Ahmad, who published his debut novel, The Wandering Falcon, when he was 79, has died “after a long illness,” his publisher said. He was 83. Ahmad spent decades as a civil servant in the country’s tribal northwest, experiences he drew upon for the book, which was shortlisted for the 2011 Man Asian Literary Prize. He wrote the novel in the 1970s, but in his words, it “hibernated” for 40 years before finding a publisher.Ahmad said he wrote it because “I want people to understand that tribes are not savage." 

Also today, Kenyan author Okwiri Oduor has won the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing with her story ”My Father’s Head.“ And scandal is afoot in the small (yet mighty) poetry community of North Carolina. Gov. Pat McCrory appointed a self-published state employee as the new poet laureate, prompting significant pushback from the state’s literary community. 

Read more here.

Sister excellence time! After returning from the screening of her short film in Switzerland at the Fribourg International Film Festival, sister dearest is in Ghana with the selected 12 for the Caine Prize writing workshop. You know, just a workshop … for the Caine Prize. I shall now sit in a corner and question my life and goals. @azemezi

SO pretty much, Akwaeke Emezi is a name that will be familar to allll of y'all soon lol

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If you have already read Chinua Achebe...

…or would like to know more about African literature, this list has a few of the best writers to come from the continent of Africa: 

Wizard of the Crow - Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (Kenya) (Link to Catalog)

Humorous political magical realist fiction. The individual stories of characters both powerful and ordinary create a kaleidoscopic portrait of postcolonial Africa in the twentieth century, in a novel set in the Free Republic of Aburiria.  At the top, a grandiose Ruler with “the power to declare any month in the year the seventh month” and his sycophantic cabinet plan to climb to heaven with a modern-day Tower of Babel funded by the Global Bank; beneath them, a cabal of venal officials and opportunistic businessmen jockey for a piece of the pie; at the bottom are the unemployed masses who wait in endless lines behind every help-wanted sign. (Reviews)

Beethoven was one-sixteenth black: and other stories - Nadine Gordimer (South Africa) (Link to Catalog)

Short Stories. Thought Provoking and stylistically complex. A collection of short fiction addresses issues of race, identity, and politics, in the title story about an anti-apartheid activist and academic who pursues questions of his own racial identity, and thirteen other stories. (Reviews)

News from Home : Stories - Sefi Atta (Nigeria) (Link to Catalog)

Psychological Fiction. In the irreverent title story, a young Nigerian gets a job as a nanny for a New Jersey family; she sneers at their “African” decor, but what dazzles her is the mall (“scented toilet paper!”). When Americans ask her where she’s from, she ends up saying “Africa”; they don’t know Nigeria. As gentle as it is horrifying, “Last Trip” is about a courier from Lagos who boards a plane for London with a half-million dollars’ worth of heroin in her stomach; her commission will help care for her disabled son. In “Twilight Trek,” illegals are on a modern biblical exodus across the blazing Sahara desert; the wry narrator is desperate (“Death I could live with”), even as he confronts horrific global prejudice (“foreign embassies don’t grant Africans like us visas”).

Hitting Budapest - Noviolet Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) (Link to Story)

Short Story. Winner of the 2011 Caine Prize for African Writing.
doreen baingana | 'our stories aren't all tragedies'


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“After my talk in Red Wing, one woman asked me about Idi Amin, whose eating habits I am expected to have insider information about. Another asked about female circumcision in Uganda. I do not mean to fault this group in particular or Americans in general. Even here in cosmopolitan London last July, at events for the Caine Prize for African Writing, students and others posed questions within the same framework, using the word "postcolonial” like it was going out of style. I wish. Is there any other way we can view and talk about the multiplicities of the African experience? We need to, desperately.“

This is an oft-repeated call that nonetheless bears repeating. Although Baingana tasks the African writer with countering the limitations of these ideas about Africa, her writing is so far from a straightforward rebuttal of the AFRICA = ;-((( narratives.

At her best she crystallises middle-class ennui; the many contradictions of Christianity; isolation, atomization and the desire to be numb. My favourite stories trace the difficulty of imagining the overhaul of the worlds we inhabit. She gives us characters who are drifting along in roles often so constricting they draw blood, but who stop short of imagining alternatives because the risk of imagination and speech is either inconceivable or just overwhelming. Her work is really doing it for me right now.

She’s the author of Tropical Fish: Stories out of Entebbe - I posted the covers of the SA editions by Mustafa Maluka a while back - and here’s an extract from her brilliant story ‘Anointed’.

Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo (pictured) has won major African literary award the Caine prize for her short story about a starving gang of children from a shanty town.

Bulawayo’s Hitting Budapest tells the story of six children in Zimbabwe, one of them pregnant with her grandfather’s baby, and the journey they make to steal guavas in a rich area. Chair of the Caine prize’s judges, the Libyan novelist Hisham Matar, said the story’s language “crackles”. (click here for more; click image for source).

Take no prisoners.
—  – 2013 Caine Prize Winner, Tope Folarin on his advice to the young writers in our Experimental Fiction class.  Folarin struggled for several years before he published his first short story, Miracle, which landed the prestigious prize for African Literature.  I’m taking his advice of “taking no prisoners” – by which he implies write by any means necessary – to heart.  

“And in Kiswahili, that’s the language of a kind of love, because we don’t have a colonial relationship with Kiswahili.” - Binyavanga Wainaina

This interview caused some earrings-off/gimmie some Vaseline brawls on the interweb, although the new Queen of Caine, NoViolet Bulawayo, engaged one of Wainaina’s points with with panache. Wainaina is hilarious, warm, frank and flippant: ’I was just trying to have sex in South Africa at eighteen too…as was everybody who was eighteen in South Africa. They were not sitting down beating their chests about the fall of apartheid’ and the interview opens out into a discussion to include former Caine winner Brian Chikwava (loveliest smile in African literature?) and Lizzy Attree, academic and new Caine prize administrator. Click through to listen

ICYMI: our new weekly round-up of literary goings-on! 

Not the Booker Prize: giving power to readers is absolutely what we’re about, with our reading groups and other initiatives, so we’re thrilled to see ‘probably the world’s most democratic literary prize’ back for another year. You’ve got until 27th July to get your nominations in, and three of our wonderful titles are eligible - Double Negative and The Restless Supermarket by Ivan Vladislavic, and A Map of Tulsa by Benjamin Lytal. So if you’ve read them and loved them, don’t keep it yourself - tell the (Guardian-reading) world about it! 

Sophie Lewis in Asymptote Journal: the latest issue from asymptotejournal really is an embarrassment of riches, and especially for us - not only do they have this fab essay by Daniel Hahn about translating our next title, Nowhere People, there’s also this excerpt from Violette Leduc’s Therese and Isabelle, translated from the French by our very own editor-at-large Sophie Lewis! Having beautiful baby Xul (who you can read all about in our latest newsletter - sign up here!) clearly hasn’t slowed Sophie down :-) 

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Okwiri Oduor wins the Caine Prize: now in its fifteenth year, the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing was awarded to Kenyan Okwiri Oduor, whose winning story 'My Father’s Head’ was described by the judges as “Joycean in its reach”. You can read the story in full here, and listen to Okwiri and judge Jackie Kay discussing the win on bbcradio4 Front Row. For an in-depth look at this year’s five shortlisted entries we recommend Ainehi Edoro’s Brittle Paper blog - indispensable for keeping your finger on the pulse of the African literary scene.   

Thriving Indie Publishers - in praise of Text: over on the Foyles blog, expat Aussie Marion Rankine spreads some much-deserved love for the press that’s won Australia’s Small Publisher of the Year Award for the past three years running(!!) - Text Publishing. Their vibrant yellow classics (bah, humbug, gloomy Penguins) are currently brightening up the shiny new Charing Cross branch of Foyles, and we wholeheartedly recommend you try them out. Marion’s top three are a great place to start, and our social media guru @londonkoreanist is a fan of Elizabeth Harrower’s The Watch Tower. Also, though she read the latest Classic, Janet Frame’s Owls Do Cry, in a second-hand ed from another publisher, it was so stunningly good the fact that it ever went out of print is simply mind-boggling, and speaks volumes re: the indispensable work that publishers like Text are doing. Up the Aussies! 

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RIP Nadine Gordimer: most of you will have heard by now of the death of Nadine Gordimer, Nobel laureate and anti-apartheid activist. This piece by Margaret Atwood in guardian is a moving introduction to Gordimer’s life and work, for those of you who aren’t already familiar, while openculture is collecting stories available for free online here

An Interview with Rotimi Babatunde, 2012 Caine Prize Winner

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Rotimi Babatunde, Chair of the Nigerian PEN Center’s Writers for Peace Committee, recently won the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing for his story “Bombay’s Republic”The Prize was founded in 2000 to celebrate the richness and diversity of African writing in English.

“Bombay’s Republic” tells the story of an African soldier of the “Forgotten Army” who served on the Burma front during the Second World War before returning home as a decorated veteran. At its height, the “Forgotten Army” had approximately a million soldiers, most of whom were drawn from British colonies in Africa and Asia.  We asked Babatunde to share his journey as a writer and inspirations for “Bombay’s Republic.”

PEN International: What was the inspiration for your story, “Bombay’s Republic”?

Babatunde: The lore of the Burma veterans which endures in the Nigerian folk consciousness. My first memorable encounter with it occurred in childhood, when I stumbled on my older siblings discussing an anecdote relating to a particular veteran. On return from the war, some schoolchildren asked him to tell them about the Black Hole of Calcutta since he had been to Asia. But the veteran didn’t visit Calcutta while abroad and he did not want to appear ignorant to the students. As a way out of his quandary, he simply literalized the phrase, replying that the Black Hole of Calcutta is the name of a bottomless, pitch-dark hole which he saw with his very eyes in Burma.

Read the full interview here.

Published with permission from PEN International