Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The race for Africa’s biggest literary prize begins

By Anote Ajeluorou

A literary shortlist always creates excitement, shock, surprise and even hisses. The US$100,000 worth The Nigerian Prize for Literature just released elicits no less emotions, at least for those familiar with some or all of the works.
  On the shortlist are Ngozi Achebe Onaedo with The Blacksmith’s Daughter, Ifeanyi Ajaegbo with Sarah House, Jude Dibia with Blackbird, Vincent Egbuson with Zhero, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani with I Do Not Come to You by Chance. Others are Onuorah Nzekwu with Troubled Dust, Olusola Olugbesan with Only Canvass, Lola Shoneyin with The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, E.E. Sule with Sterile Sky and Chika Unigwe with On Black Sister’s Street.
  Some of the works that elicits excitement include Adaobi Nwaubani’s I Do Not Come to You by Chance, an extremely hilarious novel about the 419 scam of the late 1990 and early 2000. Nwaubani’s wit and ability to thresh up the minds of these scammers stand her work out. Not least darkly hilarious is Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives that explores a festering harem racked by the inability of the husband to father a child because of infertility.
  On the other hand, Onuorah Nzekwu’s Troubled Dust and Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sister’s Street are works that stand out in their own terms. Nzekwu’s Troubled Dust was published some 42 odd years after it was written; it stirs up raw emotions about the Nigerian Civil War fought in the late 60s and serves as a reminder that the warpath should never be an option because of the dire consequences. The co-author of Eze Goes to School has a work that can strongly contend for the prize just like any other.
  Unigwe’s On Black Sister’s Street opens the raw wound of female trafficking for prostitution purposes still rampant in some part of the country as a means of escaping the economic hardship in Nigeria. The Belgium-based writer’s work explores the dark world of the criminal ring that profits from this obnoxious trade in feminine flesh and the lives of the victims.
  Apart from Dibia’s Blackbird, which deals with two families and the intertwining relationships, the other works also present their own peculiar surprises and expectations. As they say, the die is cast, and let the judging begin!
  Members of the panel of judges for this year’s prize include Prof. J.O.J. Agbaja, Prof. Angela Miri, prof. Sophia Ogwude, and Dr. Oyeniyi Okunoye, with Prof. Francis Abiola Irele, Provost of the Colleges of Humanities at Kwara State University and Fellow of the Dubois Institute, Harvard University, jury panel chairman. He said it took hours of intensive scrutiny by the panel to produce the shortlist. A closer scrutiny will produce the shortlist of three before the final award in October.

TOMORROW also, the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa will announce its winner in a grand ceremony at The Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos. Former President if Ghana, Mr. John Kuffour will deliver a keynote address while Governors Babatunde Fashola and Ibikunle Amosun of Lagos and Ogun States respectively will be in attendance.
 The Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa is worth US$20,000, making it the second biggest literary prize on the continent to reward writer’s creativity and diligence in projecting Africa’s culture and humanity.
  These two prizes are a boost for the continent’s writers who, otherwise, profit very little from their writings in an environment with little or no infrastructure for effective book distribution or royalties from publishers. Indeed, since the two prizes are domiciled in Nigeria, the country’s writers now have an honourable expectation from their works and can go on crafting stories that can truly stir the human heart.

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