5 July 2018

Malawi: Makena Onjerika Wins 2018 Caine Prize for African Writing

Photo: Premium Times
Caine Prize.

Kenyan author Makena Onjerika is the 2018 Caine Prize winner, whose haunting tale 'Fanta Blackcurrant' about Nairobi's street children secured her the coveted £10,000 (Sh1.3 million) prize

Makena Onjerika won this years Caine Prize for her story 'Fanta Blackcurrant" which was first published in Wasafiri in 2017. Onjerika is the fourth Kenyan to win the literary award that comes with a cash prize of £10,000 {Sh1.3m}.

The award was completely unexpected by Onjerika who told BBC that she was surprised to win and had in fact bet against herself.

"I did not expect it. I had a person that i was betting for among the shortlisted writers... and then i heard my name and i was like are you sure it was me you mentioned?" She said.

Onjerika, a graduate of the MFA Creative Writing programme at New York University, told BBC that she chose to write about street children as "Kenyans - me included - do not see street kids as children. There are children, and then there are 'chokora'," she added, explaining the derogatory Swahili term used by Kenyans which translates as "street urchins".

"Fanta Blackcurrant" follows the story of a street girl, Meri and other street girls doing what they have to do to survive. The story is told from the perspective of another street girl using English street lingo.

The protagonist Meri's one dream is to have "a big Fanta Blackcurrant for her to drink every day and it never finish". Unlike the other children in the story who crave "community and acceptance," Onjerika said that Meri "just wants sweetness" for her life.

Onjerika beat out the other four finalists for the award: Nonyelum Ekwempu (Nigeria), Stacy Hardy (South Africa), Olufunke Ogundimu (Nigeria) and Wole Talabi (Nigeria).

The Chair of the Caine Prize judging panel Dinaw Mengestu, praised her narrative in his remarks saying, "The winner of this year's Caine Prize is as fierce as they come--a narrative forged but not defined by the streets of Nairobi, a story that stands as more than just witness. Makena Onjerika's 'Fanta Blackcurrant' presides over a grammar and architecture of its own making, one that eschews any trace of sentimentality in favour of a narrative that is haunting in its humour, sorrow and intimacy."

The Caine Prize winner who is staying true to her story and its intention to highlight the struggle of street children told BBC she will donate half of her £10,000 ($13,000) winnings to help rehabilitate them.

"With the rest of the money I'll buy a car or maybe a motorcycle to get through traffic jams in Nairobi," she said.

The three Kenyan authors that preceded her for the award are: Okwiri Oduor (2013), Yvonne Owuor (2003), and Binyavanga Wainaina (2002).

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