The £10,000 award, is given each year by a panel of judges for a short story published in English by an African writer. This year’s Chair of Judges, South African writer Zoë Wicomb, praised Namwali’s story saying, “From a very strong shortlist we have picked an extraordinary story about the aftermath of revolution with its liberatory promises shattered. It makes demands on the reader and challenges conventions of the genre. It yields fresh meaning with every reading. Formally innovative, stylistically stunning, haunting and enigmatic in its effects. “The Sack” is a truly luminous winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing”.
For the first time in Caine Prize history, Namwali declared that she would share out her £10,000 prize money between the other shortlisted writers. As she said, “I’ve spent a week with these amazing writers and friends. Literature isn’t about competition and so I just want to take that part out of it.” This year’s prize was awarded in the newly opened Blackwell Hall at the Bodleian Libraries, Oxford University’s central library that opened in 1602.
The ‘African Booker’
Last year the Caine Prize was won by Kenyan writer Okwiri Oduor. She was a 2014 MacDowell Colony fellow, has been accepted on the Iowa Writing Programme and is currently at work on her debut novel.
The Caine Prize, awarded annually since the year 2000 for African short story 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 African winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Wole Soyinka and J M Coetzee are Patrons and the Prize is to an African writer for a short story published in English (stories with a length of 3000 to 10,000 words). To be eligible for the prize, a writer must have been born in Africa, be a national of an African country, or have a parent who is African by birth or nationality.
The five shortlisted stories, alongside stories written at Caine Prize workshops, were published in Lusaka Punk and other stories by New Internationalist in the UK and through co-publishing houses in South Africa, the United States, Ghana, Uganda, Zambia, Cameroon, Zimbabwe and Kenya’s Kwani? publishers.
Once again, the winner of the Caine Prize will be given the opportunity to take up a month’s residence at Georgetown University, as a Writer-in-Residence at the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice. The winner is also invited to take part in the Open Book Festival in Cape Town, Storymoja in Nairobi and Ake Festival in Abeokuta, Nigeria.
The Caine Prize in Africa
Subsequent to the award-giving in leafy Oxford, England, the Caine Prize also hosts workshops for shortlisted writers and other African writers on the continent. This year Ghana welcomed the 2014 shortlist and other talented writers for thirteen days to write, read and discuss work in progress and to learn from two experienced writers: Leila Aboulela, who is a Sudanese author and winner of the inaugural Caine Prize in 1999, and Zukiswa Wanner, a South African novelist and journalist. Writers joined this workshop from South Africa, Zambia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Cameroon, Malawi, Nigeria and Sierra Leone.
The panel of judges was chaired by South African writer and recipient of Yale’s 2013 Windham-Campbell Prize for fiction, Zoë Wicomb. Zoë’s works of fiction include: You Can’t Get Lost in Cape Town, David’s Story, Playing in the Light, The One That Got Away and October. Zoë currently lives in Scotland, where she is Emeritus Professor in English Studies at Strathclyde University.
Alongside Zoë on the panel of judges were Neel Mukherjee, author of the award-winning debut novel, A Life Apart (2010) and the Man Booker Prize-shortlisted The Lives of Others (2014); Brian Chikwava, author and former winner of the Caine Prize (2004); Zeinab Badawi, the prominent broadcaster and Chair of the Royal African Society; and Cóilín Parsons, Assistant Professor of English at Georgetown University who has written on Irish, South African and Indian literature.
Namwali Serpell – 2015 caine prize winner
2015 winner Namwali Serpell was born in Zambia before travelling to the US through her parents’ jobs, eventually going back to Zambia as a teenager for schooling. Her parents and sister still live in Zambia and she travels back regularly to work and research future books.
Namwali’s first published story, “Muzungu”, was selected for the Best American Short Stories 2009 and shortlisted for the 2010 Caine Prize for African Writing. In 2014, she was selected as one of the most promising African writers for the Africa 39 Anthology, a project of the Hay festival. Her writing has appeared in Tin House, The Believer, n+1, McSweeney’s (forthcoming), Bidoun, Callaloo, The San Francisco Chronicle, The L.A. Review of Books, and The Guardian. She is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Berkeley English department. Her first book of literary criticism, Seven Modes of Uncertainty, was published in 2014.
“The Sack” explores a world where dreams and reality are both claustrophobic and dark. The relationship between two men and an absent woman are explored though troubled interactions and power relationships which jar with the views held by the characters.
Namwali chose to share her winnings with the other shortlisted writers as a mark of respect and admiration. The shortlist included:
Nigeria’s Segun Afolabi was shortlisted for his story “The Folder Leaf”. A previous winner in 2005 for “Monday Morning”, Segun was born in Kaduna, Nigeria, and grew up in Canada, the Congo, Indonesia, Germany and Hong Kong. His first novel, Goodbye Lucille, was published in 2007 and won the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award in the UK. His first book, A Life Elsewhere, a short story collection, was published in 2006 and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.
South Africa’s Masande Ntshanga was shortlisted for “Space”. Another new writer to the Caine Prize, Masande’s debut novel, The Reactive, was published in 2014 by Penguin Random House. He is also the winner of the 2013 PEN International New Voices Award. He was born in East London, South Africa, in 1986 and grew up between Mdantsane, Zeleni, Bhisho, King William’s Town, Estcourt, Pietermaritzburg and Cape Town. He started writing as a teenager, perhaps in response to transition, and published his first story at eighteen. He graduated with a degree in Film and Media and an Honours degree in English Studies from the University of Cape Town, where he became a creative writing fellow, completing his Masters in Creative Writing under the Mellon Mays Foundation. He received a Fulbright Award and an NRF Freestanding Masters scholarship. His stories have appeared in Laugh It Off, itch, Imago and Habitat. He has also written for Rolling Stone magazine.
Nigeria’s Elnathan John was shortlisted for his story “Flying”. A previous shortlisted writer in 2013 for “Bayan Layi”, Elnathan is a full-time writer who lives and works in Nigeria. His writing has been published in Per Contra, ZAM Magazine, Hazlitt, Evergreen Review, and Chimurenga’s The Chronic. He writes political satire for a Nigerian newspaper and for his blog – which he hopes will “someday get him arrested and famous”. His first novel, Born on a Tuesday, is due from Cassava Republic Press in 2015 and Grove Atlantic’s Black Cat in 2016.
South Africa’s F. T. Kola was shortlisted for “A Party for the Colonel”. A new writer, F.T. Kola was born in South Africa, grew up in Australia, and lived in London and New York City before pursuing an MFA at the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas, Austin, where she is a fellow in fiction. “A Party For The Colonel” is her first published story.