Nigerian wins Caine Prize: Nigeria's award-winning writer, E. C. Osondu, added another laurel to his collection in June when he won the Caine Prize, Africa's leading literary award. Uchenna Izundu reports.
THIS WAS THE SECOND TIME that E. C. Osondu made the Caine Prize shortlist. He last appeared in 2007 with the entry "Jimmy Carter's Eyes". But he did not win. He entered again in 2008 with his story "Waiting", which the chair of judges, Nana Yaa Mensah, said was "a tour de force describing, from a child's point of view, the dislocating experience of being a displaced person. It is powerfully written with not an ounce of fat on it--and deeply moving."
The Caine Prize, awarded annually for African creative writing, is named after the late Sir Michael Caine, former chairman of Booker plc and chairman of the Booker Prize management committee for nearly 25 years. The prize, carrying a [pounds sterling]10,000 honorarium, is awarded for a short story by an African writer published in English of between 3,000 and 10,000 words. To the organising committee, an "African writer" means someone who was born in Africa, or who is a national of an African country, or whose parents are African, and whose work has reflected that cultural background. Prior to the announcement of the winner on 6 July, Osundu, a former advertising copywriter who is now assistant professor of English at Providence College in the US, had said: "Winning would, in some way, validate the fact that waking up in the night to scribble has its own reward."
His story, "Waiting", posted at the website guernicamag.com, is built upon his experience as a volunteer creative writing instructor for young Somali and Sudanese refugees in Syracuse, New York. "These kids were alumna of the Kakuma Refugeee Camp in Kenya, from all accounts one of the toughest refugee camps in the world. But they were also the most positive, cheerful and curious set of people I ever met."
Born in Nigeria, Osondu's work focuses on otherness, foreignness, and how new ecologies and geographies alter the individual and the community. He has found support outside Nigeria for his work--he is now writing a novel that examines genocide.
Osundu has previously won the Allen and Nirelle Galso Prize for Fiction, and in 2006 his story "A Letter from Home" was judged one of the "Top Ten Stories on the Internet".
This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Caine Prize. Two other entries were highly commended: "Devils at the Door" by Sierra Leone's Brian James, and "Socks Ball" by the Ghanaian writer Nii Parkes. Osondu, as the winner, will take up a month's residency at Georgetown University, Washington DC, as a "Caine Prize/Georgetown University Writer-in-Residence". The award covers all travel and living expenses.
Last year the prize was won by the South African writer Henrietta Rose-Innes for her short story "Poison". Other previous winners include Uganda's Monica Arac dc Nyeko, for "Jambula Tree" and Brian Chikwava, from Zimbabwe.
This year's shortlist, selected from 122 entries from 12 African countries, reflected the pan-African reach of the award. Previously African writing was characterised by a colonial legacy and explanation to the West of African habits and beliefs. But now, some writers are analysing everyday occurrences in their societies, and offering a new and individualistic perspective.