Okwiri2

 

Name: Okwiri Oduor

Nationality: Kenyan

Published Work: Dream Chaser (a novella)

Interesting Fact: She’s a Nairobi gal through and through.  She’s working on her debut novel and teaches creative writing at her Nairobi alma mater.

Caine Prize Story: “My Father’s Head” is about a woman who tries to draw a picture of her dead father. The trouble is that while she’s able to draw his body, she can’t seem to recall what his head looks like.

Why You Should Read It: The story is sad and surrealist in a sweetly unsettling sort of way. It’s about trying to remember a headless father. Need I say more!

Here is one of my favorite moments:

I remembered a time when I was a little child, when I stared into my father’s eyes in much the same way. In them I saw shapes; a drunken, talentless conglomerate of circles and triangles and squares. I had wondered how those shapes had got inside my father’s eyes. I had imagined that he sat down at the table, cut out glossy figures from coloring books, slathered them with glue, and stuck them inside his eyes so that they made rummy, haphazard collages in his irises.

Read full story HERE

 

awerbuck, diane

 

Name: Diane Awebuck

Nationality: South African

Published Work: The Gardening Night. Cabin Fever. Home Remedies. A doctoral dissertation published under the title The Spirit and the Letter: Trauma, Warblogs and the Public Sphere.

Interesting Fact: Her first novel is completely autobiographical. She is inspired by X-Files and loves to read other people’s letters and emails. She’s a fan of Ray Bradbury, Barbara Kingsolver, and Antjie Krog. {source}

Caine Prize Story: “Phosphorescence” tells the story of a grandmother who goes skinny-dipping (swims naked) in the sea with her grand-daughter.

Why You Should Read it: The story of an old woman swimming naked with her troubled granddaughter is lovely. But it’s the writing that will get you. It’s delicate and pretty.  Here is my favorite moment:

Brittany bent and unlaced her sneakers. She divested herself of her ankle socks and her black jeans, her haunches thin as a deer’s. Her top went next, then the shirts – three of them, layered archaeologically – until she was standing in her girlish underwear, a mystifying combination of cotton and wire scaffolding. She doesn’t need a bra, thought Alice, looking at her un- promising chest. why is she even wearing one? Her granddaughter’s body was a collection of straws, white in the moonlight.

Read full story HERE

“Layered archaeologically?” That’s sublime!

Kahora

 

Name: Billy Kahora

Nationality: Kenyan

Published Work:  “Treadmill Love” and “Urban Zoning” are both short stories.

Interesting Fact: He was one of the judges of the Etisalat Prize for Literature and is the managing editor of Kwani?, a nairobi-based literary journal.

Caine Prize Story: “The Gorilla’s Apprentice” is a strange story about an old, orphaned Gorilla and a teenage boy. As the gorilla gradually loses its eye-sight, the boy searches for a deeper, trans-species connection with the beast.

Why You Should Read it: The idea of human-animal friendship set against the backdrop of Kenya’s post-election crisis is both bizarre and cool. Besides, there aren’t enough African stories about animals.

Here is one of my favorite moments:

Then the last question: ‘It-is-said-that-far-in-the-mountains-of-Rwanda men-have-learnt-to- talk-to-gorillas. Do-you-think-there-is-any-truth to-such-claims?’ Semambo felt the ground shift slightly beneath him, but as hard as he tried, he could not make out the face that had asked the question. The projector light was right in his face, hiccupping because it had reached the end and caused the words on the screen to blink. 

Read full story HERE

Huchu

 

Name: Tendai Huchu

Nationality: Zimbabwe

Published Work: The Hairdresser of Harare

Interesting Fact: He dropped out of the University of Zimbabwe in his first semester and took up a job in a casino. He now lives in Scotland where he is a podiatrist. Believe it or not Huchu is actually a Brittle Paper writer. Read his “narrative remix” of a song by the Zimbabwean musician Comrade Fatso {HERE}.

Caine Prize Story: “The Intervention” is set in London. A living room full of Zimbabweans caught in an awkward moment on the day the nation’s election result is announced on Al Jazeera.

Why You Should Read It: It’s a one-scene story, so it’s fast and intense. I love how it fuses a domestic moment—a couple needing intervention in their relationship—with a moment of national uncertainty.

Out of me flowed a poetic response, a thermonuclear blast that left everyone stunned. Cynthia’s mouth was wide open. Z blinked a couple of times. As it lifted, I felt naked and tired, so tired. I fell back onto my seat and tried to control my breathing. I reached into my pocket, took out a notebook and began to write the verse as I’d received it. My t-shirt felt clammy on my skin. Everyone was staring. Precious told the kids to go to bed.

Read full story HERE

Chela

Name: Efemia Chela

Nationality: Ghana/Zambia

Published Work: “Chicken” is her first ever published work. It came third-place in Short Story Day Africa Competition

Interesting Fact: Her first ever published short story got her a Caine Prize shortlist. Talk about a beautiful start! She “enjoys wine-tasting, black and white movies, art, fashion as art and film photography.” She is married—sorry folks—but “to a film camera.” “They go everywhere together and have many square children.”  [source]

Caine Prize Story: “Chicken” is a set of three vignettes in which a character reflects on coming of age as  a young woman in an African city.  The first vignette captures the domestic flourish of an extended African family life. The second is an account of her bohemian post-university life of sexual experimentation. The third is her reclaiming her feminine body (sort of) through the experience of an irrevocable loss.

Why You Should Read It: Chela describes food like it’s sex. Here is one example:

From my father’s side came slow-cooked beef shin in a giant dented tin pot. Simply done, relying only on the innate flavour of the marbled red cubes of flesh and thinly sliced onion getting to know each other for hours. It was smoked by open charcoal fire and lightly seasoned with nothing but the flecks of salty sweat from nervy Auntie Nchimunya constantly leaning over the steaming pot. Mushrooms were cooked as simply as Sister Chanda’s existence. Fungi was hoped for in the night and foraged for at dawn. My favorites were curly-edged, red on top with a yellow underskirt and fried in butter. My lip curled as someone passed me a bowl of uisashi, wild greens and peanuts mashed into a bitty green mess. Little cousins cheekily defied their rank and begged for the prized parsons’ noses from the grilled chickens. My chickens. Their shiny mouths indicated they’d already had more than enough chicken for the night and their age. Tauntingly, I popped one of the tails into my mouth and refused to pass them the crammed tray.

Read full story HERE

 

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

15 Responses to “Here’s What’s Cool About All Five Caine Prize Stories” Subscribe

  1. enajyte 2014/04/24 at 10:34 #

    Of all the stories, Chicken resonated the most with me. Some parts of Phosphorescence were sweet. The others were bland for me. I understood the theme but the telling didn’t flow. It was difficult reading.

    If I had come across any of these stories elsewhere would I have read past the first paragraph? Chicken, maybe.

    Congrats to the shortlisted writers.

  2. Ellah Wakatama Allfrey 2014/04/24 at 14:45 #

    Thank you for such a thoughtful take on the stories… and for injecting a sense of fun into the enterprise. This was a joy to read.

  3. Ainehi Edoro 2014/04/24 at 15:52 #

    Thanks Ellah! It means the world to me that you paid a visit to Brittle Paper and left such a kind note.

  4. nkiacha atemnkeng 2014/04/24 at 19:04 #

    I love the fresh perspective of your write up, including pics, topic and notes thing , its really cool. And your insights are very powerful and captivating. I suggest you should review the stories independently. I think you’ll make a good critique. Let me put it out there, you inspired me to review the stories on my blog as from this weekend. the first commenter has a right to his/her opinion (i no know whether na man or na woman self) but almost all the stories resonated with me except “Chicken”. my favourite is “My father’s head” but then i thought Tendai and Kahora’s stories were equally impressive

  5. Kennedy 2014/04/24 at 21:48 #

    I have read through all the stories once. I need to read through again to be convinced. At first reading, i will give it to Diane Awebuck’s Phosphorescence.
    I cannot relate with the other stories, sorry. What are the realities of our continent? What are the philosophical contents of the stories? How can i relate with them?
    From South Africa where one girl is raped every 3 minutes, to Zimbabwe where one man has held a country hostage for more than 30 years, to Kenya where families are yet to recover from the Nairobi terrorist attack, to Uganda where being gay is being against the State, to Nigeria where more than 100 girls are enduring agony in the hands of their terrorist kidnappers in the Sambisa forest, to Egypt and Libya where the people are still searching for a right to self-realization, the story is the same. I am not saying that a writer must be an activist. But think of our world without literature. If every writer in history wrote like Shakespeare, the world would be a terrible nightmare. No idea, no philosophical content, no literature.
    How can the judges tell me that the story of a Gorilla apprentice is what the world needs to know about Africa? No doubt about it, Billy Kahora is a talented writer and one of the best in the continent, but the story, Gorilla Apprentice, is an abuse of Africa’s literature. Personal opinion. Chicken was good but Efemia had too many ideas muddled up. The story reminded me of Okparanta’s America.
    I say Diane Awebuck’s Phosphorescence is the best of the pack because of the rhymes, plot and philosophy. Firstly, Diane played with two characters and left left us intrigued. Secondly, the prose along the lines is uncommon to Africa’s literature (it’s a cultural manifestation of her depth, and i understand the sentiments of the first contributor). Thirdly, her story points to something philosophical, and that is to show us how we destroy our environment in search of fortune. Sad to say, her country is currently experiencing the worst recession ever known in history, by the same mines. I finished reading the story and asked myself if South Africa is on the right path? I am not a South African to judge.
    It is either the judges were schooled to make judgment to balance the circle of criticisms or they were looking to do this in their own volition. I believe that these are not Africa’s best. Personal opinion.

  6. Ainehi Edoro 2014/04/24 at 23:24 #

    @Nkiacha, we do plan to post reviews. The first review written by Aaron Bady will be posted on Monday, so do stop by again for a more in-depth commentary.

  7. Ainehi Edoro 2014/04/24 at 23:25 #

    @Kennedy:

    your comment is awesome and thought-provoking. What are the stakes in contemporary African fiction? What questions should African authors be asking? What realities should they be exploring? Fair questions.

    As you can imagine, these are questions that everyone from Achebe to Ngugi has asked at some point. Clearly, it’s important because we are still concerned about whether our writers are engaging the right kinds of themes and concerns.

    I guess the question then becomes: is it our place to define what kinds of subjects are appropriate for our writers? I’m curious to know what you think.

  8. Mel u 2014/04/25 at 01:28 #

    I posted on my blog, The Reading Life, on the Caine Prize stories in 2010, 2011, 2012 and I skipped last year. This years stories look very interesting and I will be posting on all of them.

  9. Apodictic M 2014/04/25 at 06:51 #

    I honestly think that all the stories are great in their own unique way. My hope is that the judges will balance two important factors when choosing the winner between these five shortlisted stories. The balance that I envisage should be between

    1. The subject matter – what the story is telling/addressing. Recently we have heard much criticisms about ‘poverty porn’ and it is good to notice that there are no traces of that in the five stories. That in itself is not an easy task since we cannot all agree on what are the real issues in Africa and whether the young emerging writers should be limited by them in their writing. Personally I feel – writers should write what they like!

    2. How the story is written/unfolds – For me this is the mark of a great writer. This is what sets one writer apart from another. Recently criticism around the caine prize has dwelt much on the above point number 1 and not so much on the craftsmanship and vibrant style of the writers. The risk is that writing from Africa becomes judged solely on the subject matter/stereotyping/poverty porn/truth/readership fallacy gibberish!

    I hope when the judges decide the best story will win but in my opinion two stories stand out for me – Okwiri Oduor’s and Tendai Huchu ‘s stories have a certain freshness to them in both the subject and style. The other three are also fine stories. Congratulations to all of you guys! Goodluck!

  10. Palesa 2014/04/25 at 08:23 #

    @Kennedy.

    Writers write. Writers should have the prerogative to write according to what drives and motives them.

    African writers, are writers. They may self-identify as writers with an African heritage, but ultimately, even as writers, African writers should have the prerogative to write according to what drives and motives them.

    There seems to be an expectation of African writers to write about Africa with the ‘philosophical’ purpose that you outline in your response. This ‘philosophical’ purpose that you seek out of African writers is not only prescriptive, but also limiting and essentialist. Your ‘philosophical’ purpose prescribes an African reality that has to support the dominant discourse about Africa and Africans (as you have listed), and further hints at negative racial undertones. In other words, unless you present Africa in a certain manner it is not authentic.

    It is absolutely abhorrent that in this day and age, you propose a ‘philosophical’ purpose that denies Africans the right to imagine even in their writing. Writers from other continents are allowed to imagine and present their imagined realities in different ways. Allow the African writer also to do so.

    But should you truly be in favour of this ‘philosophical’ purpose that you believe Diane Awebuck presents, then the very same Diane Awebuck is not true to that philosophy. As a white South African, Diane Awebuck should, according to your argument, then engage in the philosophical arguments about:
    *complicity in racism – historical and present,
    *how white economic supremacy remains a huge debilitating factor in moving South Africa forward, an in fact, is largely responsible for the inability of the nation to gain economic progress for the majority of the people, *the social-psychological damage of white supremacy and its legacy on the soul and spirit of South Africa today.

    These are but some (there are plenty more) of the issues one would, according to your argument, expect to be tackled by the likes of Diane Awebuck.

    Like her counterparts from other African countries, Diane Awebuck should under no circumstances be allowed to write according to what drives and motivates her imagination – that is if your argument holds true.

    Kennedy, may we request your permission as Africans to explore the diversity of our humanity, yes even as Africans, in literature, film, fine arts and any other art form.

    Whether these stories are Africa’s best or not is a subject matter on its own. But please allow Africans the freedom of thought, imagination, and expression.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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