The winner of this year’s edition of the Caine Prize for African Writing is Zambia’s Namwali Serpell.
She competed against Elnathan John, F.T Kola, Masande Ntashanga and Segun Afolabi. But her story “The Sack” got her the highly-coveted literary award, making her 15,600-dollar richer.
Here is where things get interesting. The UC Berkley English professor says she doesn’t want to keep all the money to herself. She wants to split it five ways with the other contestants “as an act of mutiny.”
What exactly is she rebelling against by refusing to keep her well-earned cash? The very idea of competition.
“It is very awkward to be placed into this position of competition with other writers that you respect immensely,” she says to BBC News. Taking the full award makes her feel like she is in some kind of “American Idol or race-horse situation.” Literary competitions are not about fighting to the death to win a prize but about supporting people you respect.
I asked her on twitter to clarify a bit more. And her reply is that she doesn’t believe in the idea of “a single winner.” “Having a single winner is for hype rather than interest.”
This is certainly not the first time that a winner of an African literary prize has gifted a part of the winnings to a competitor. When Noviolet Bulawayo won the Etisalat Prize, she kept the money but gave the University of East Anglia fellowship to Yewande Omotoso.
Still Serpell’s decision to split the cash is a first.
I think it’s a gracious thing to do.
What do you think? Do you see yourself ever sharing the cash prize from a literary award with fellow contestants?