For its ability to put African writers and their works on the global stage and award the highest prize an African writer can win on the continent every year, the Etisalat Prize for Literature is being described as Africa’s response to the Nobel Prize for literature.
The days when it was believed that African writers must tell their stories to meet external expectations are over. Now, writers of African descent can write about their home continent, taking from the experiences, the way they deem fit.
The annual Pan-African prize for Literature sponsored by Etisalat Nigeria celebrates contemporary African writers who have published novels of at least 30,000 words within the previous 24 months. Each year since 2013, someone has won the £15,000 prize money.
Although this is still far from the nearly £775,000, which the Nobel Foundation awards for Literature, it makes a huge difference for the African winners, many of whom find the prize extremely important for their careers.
NoViolet Bulawayo, 2013 winner of the Etisalat Prize said, “We are all aware of the shortage of literary prizes and it is heart-warming to know that Etisalat Nigeria sees and values the significance of such literary works in Africa.”
Aside from the £15,000, the winner is also accepted into a fellowship at the renowned University of East Anglia, where the author would be mentored by distinguished professors, including Prof. Giles Foden, author of the Last King of Scotland. Then, Etisalat would purchase a minimum of 1,000 copies of all shortlisted books and donates them to libraries, schools, and book clubs across the continent.
Winners of past editions of the Etisalat Prize for Literature are Fiston Mwanza Mujila from The Democratic Republic of Congo (Tram 83; 2015); South African novelist Songeziwe Mahlangu (Penumbra, 2014) and Zimbabwean writer NoViolet Bulawayo (We Need New Names, 2013).
For the 2016 edition, three authors have been shortlisted from a long list of nine names, comprising six South Africans and three Nigerians. The shortlisted authors were selected by panel of judges, chaired by Caine Prize winner, Helon Habila, who is currently an associate professor of creative writing at George Mason University, United States.
Other judges are Edwige-Renée Dro, from Cote d’Ivoire, one of the founding members of Abidjan Lit, an influential collective of writers and readers and Elinor Sisulu, South African writer and human rights activist. He was 2003 winner of the Prestigious Noma Award for publishing in Africa.
The shortlisted authors are Jowhor Ile (Nigeria), author of After Many Days (Kachifo Limited, Nigeria); Julie Iromuanya (Nigeria), author of Mr & Mrs Doctor (Coffee House Press, USA) and Jacqui L’Ange (South Africa), author of The Seed Thief (Umuzi Publishers, South Africa).
The works were shortlisted as a result of their “originality of voice and literary excellence, our purpose was to select a work that portrays an African sensibility,” Habila said.