22 May 2019

Kenya: Caine Prize 2019 - Will Kenya's Cherrie Kandie Beat Nigerians?

Photo: Caine Prize
The 2019 Caine Prize shortlist.

Five short story writers have made it to the 2019 shortlist for The Caine Prize for African Writing, ahead of the awards ceremony to be held in London in July.

They include Kenya's Cherrie Kandie for Sew My Mouth, Ethiopian Meron Hadero for The Wall and Cameroonian Ngwa-Mbo Nana Nkweti for It Takes A Village, Some Say.

The other two in the shortlist released on Monday are Nigerians - Lesley Nneka Arimah for Skinned and Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor for All Our Lives.

Peter Kimani, an award-winning Kenyan journalist and author of the Dance of the Jacaranda, is leading a team of five judges in deciding the winner.

The other judges are Sefi Atta of Nigeria, Margie Orford of South Africa, Sierra Leonean Olufemi Terry and Prof Scott Taylor.

They all have a stable background in literary authorship.

THE ODDS

Will Ms Kandie scoop the 20th Caine Prize and walk away with Sh1,287,950? History shows she stands a chance in the face of the unrelenting Nigerians who've made it to the list.

Winnings and short-listings by nationality for the last 19 years indicate that Kenyan writers come second.

Thirteen entries by Kenyans have been considered in this period, with Makena Onjerika winning in 2018 for Fanta Blackcurrant.

Nigeria comes first; 25 short stories by Nigerian authors have been considered for the prize, with five of them winning the prestigious award.

Nigerians have only missed the award four times; in four of the 25 appearances, they have occupied up to three of the five available slots. The year 2018 was a special one for Nigeria as three of its writers were shortlisted.

In third place is South Africa with three prizes. Other countries that have participated in the competition include Sudan and Zimbabwe with two titles each, and Uganda, Zambia and Sierra Leone with a title each.

Somalia and Ghana have participated but have not won any prizes so far.

SUBMISSIONS

Considering Nigeria's statistics, should the conclusion be that westerners are more literary than easterners? Who, between a Kenyan and a Nigerian, is likely to emerge triumphant?

Some say the chances are always 50-50, for reasons including the number of submissions.

A contemporary Kenyan writer who requested anonymity said, "The only reason Nigerians have won more is that they submit more works than Kenyans. Nigerians are either more aggressive or more organised and networked than Kenyans."

Kenyans have won the award four times against Nigeria's five, with Okwiri Oduor in 2014, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor in 2003 and Binyavanga Wainaina in 2002.

Other Kenyans were shortlisted in 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016. Several Kenyan men have been shortlisted but Wainana remains the only one who has won the award.

In 2002, Wainaina's Discovering Home beat Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's You in America . Chimamanda is currently one of the continent's most popular writers.

Onjerika's Fanta Blackcurrant beat Ninyelum Ekwmpu's American Dream, Olufunke Ogundimu's The Armed Letter Writers and Wole Talabi's Wednesday's Story.

GEMS

Kenya and Nigeria have a literary history of almost similar themes, that goes back to the days of Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka.

The emerging writers have delved into dominant themes including homelessness, joblessness, corruption and sociology in general.

The contest is seen as one of gems but Ms Owuor, speaking during a past Kwani? event at Kenyatta University, observed that in the business of writing "there is no arrival day."

Kwani is a publisher associate of the Caine.

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