The Etisalat Prize for Literature is fast becoming Africa’s most prestigious prize.
Ever since the 2015 call for submissions was made earlier this year, we have been on the look out for the longlist. It is finally here!
The esteemed judges—Prof. Ato Quayson, Zukiswa Wanner, and Molara Wood—have been hard at work. They’ve now pared down the many entries received to a longlist of nine. And there are few surprises!
Six out of the nine authors are from South Africa. The list includes a writer from the Democratic Republic of Congo. A first! Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83, translated and published by Deep Vellum, is a brilliant novel. In the English speaking side of the African literary scene, countries like the DRC tend to be underrepresented. So it is nice to see Mujila make the cut.
Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen made the list. No surprise there. The novel has been in the limelight for quite a while now with critics saying Obioma’s work is reminiscent of Chinua Achebe’s masterful storytelling.
It is a joy to see Z. P. Dala’s What About Meera on the list. We love her work. The Durban based novelist has stood for freedom of speech both in her writing and in her work.
Judge Ato Quayson said the “longlist is a selective showcase of the best to be found.” The collection of nine novels, he adds, “are so fascinating and varied that it would take another novel just to describe them all!”
For judge Wanner, “The books on the longlist evoked many emotions” thanks to the “the originality of their plots and the beauty of the language used.”
As for judge Wood, what stood out was the inventiveness of the novel. “The longlisted books push the boundaries in their themes and inventive use of language. This is a rich array of bold new writing on what it means to be human in the world today, by irresistible African voices.”
The Etisalat Prize for Literature is in its third season. It was established in 2013 to celebrate contemporary African fiction by awarding a £15,000 to the best debut fiction writer. The prize is pan-African, meaning that it is homegrown—established by Africans for Africans. Click HERE to learn more about the amazing package the award offers.
We congratulate all the writers on the list and wish them the best of luck.
Looking forward to December when the shortlist will be announced.
Until then, take a look at the list and enjoy reading your way through it.
The Story of Anna P, as Told by Herself
by South African author Penny Busetto
“This sparse, disturbing novel reflects the past, present, and future of a woman, Anna P, who lives on an island off the coast of Italy but can no longer remember how she got there. She comes from South Africa but has almost no memories of the place or people there. The only person she has any relationship with is a sex worker whom she pays by the hour. She has abusive encounters with unknown men, and it is not clear whether she occasionally kills these men or not. It is only when she begins to connect emotionally with a young boy in her accidental care that she finds some value in herself, some place which she will not allow to be abused, and her life gradually changes. This meticulously crafted debut asks a number of difficult questions about the nature of memory: Who are we if we lose our memories? What does it mean to have no identity? And if we have no identity, no sense of ourselves, how can we make any ethical choices? The answers may not comfort the reader, but The Story of Anna P, as Told by Herselfgrounds such existential ponderings in a rich imaginative landscape that will linger with the reader long after the last page is read.”
What About Meera
by South African author Z P Dala
“Dublin becomes a refuge for Meera when she flees her toxic marriage in South Africa. In this faraway city she starts a new life, working at a school for autistic children.
But her psyche is damaged and she spirals into a doomed relationship with the father of one of the children. Their obsessive affair uncovers frightening truths about Meera’s childhood in rural KwaZulu-Natal.
Fuelled by alcohol and dark memories, Meera commits a horrifying act and is ostracised from the world where she thought she’d find happiness. To take control of her life she must stand up for what she believes is right – even if it means turning her back on the people she loves.
Vibrant, lyrical, and full of black humour, Z P Dala’s debut novel What About Meera is the story of a woman’s attempts to shape her own destiny, and evokes the streets of the Irish capital and the Indian community of Tongaat in rich detail.”
By Any Means
by South African author Kurt Ellis
“A gritty coming of age story about love, gang violence, retribution and redemption, set in Sydenham, Durban. Kyle lives with his aunt in a matchbox house after his mother’s suicide. He is a hardworking teenager with a promising football career ahead of him; he’s about to get the chance to show his talents to an international scout. Also living in the house are his cousins: Captain, the leader of a gang called the Godfathers, and shy, lisping young Jimmy. Kyle is in a relationship with Amia, beautiful but damaged by her own past. Captain and Nazneen must face her Muslim parents if they are to remain together. Captain works for a powerful dug-dealer called Lazarus. When Tyson, who previously held this position, comes out of jail, conflict ensues. Soon the tension escalates to violence and Kyle, Jimmy and Captain, whose motto is “By Any Means”, find their lives changed beyond recall.”
by South African author Paula Marais
“In jail I have a lot of time to think, and I don’t always have control over where my mind wanders. A lot of the time, and despite myself, I think about Clay: how much I loved him, the mistakes I made.
So many mistakes! My daughters. My little boy, Joe.
But my thoughts aren’t always completely clear. I think through gauze, through filters. Being locked away minute after minute, second after second (for that’s how slowly time passes) has made me realise that I’ve spent my whole life in a fog. Some days it’s like parting a thick black curtain in front of me, and just when I manage to open it and see a little light, the curtain falls closed again and I’m left in the dark.
Most people want to know where this all started, and I sometimes wonder that too.
Thea Middleton is behind bars for an unthinkable crime. As she, her husband Clay and eldest daughter Sanusha try to repair their shattered lives, their individual accounts form the pieces of a tragic puzzle that will haunt them forever.”
by Congolese author Fiston Mwanza Mujila
“Two friends, one a budding writer home from Europe, the other an ambitious racketeer, meet in the only nightclub, the Tram 83, in a war-torn city-state in secession, surrounded by profit-seekers of all languages and nationalities. Tram 83 plunges the reader into the modern African gold rush as cynical as it is comic and colorfully exotic, using jazz rhythms to weave a tale of human relationships in a world that has become a global village.”
By South African author Masande Ntshanga
“From the winner of the PEN International New Voices Award comes the story of Lindanathi, a young HIV+ man grappling with the death of his brother, for which he feels unduly responsible. He and his friends—Cecelia and Ruan—work low-paying jobs and sell anti-retroviral drugs (during the period in South Africa before ARVs became broadly distributed). In between, they huff glue, drift through parties, and traverse the streets of Cape Town where they observe the grave material disparities of their country.
A mysterious masked man appears seeking to buy their surplus of ARVs, an offer that would present the friends with the opportunity to escape their environs, while at the same time forcing Lindanathi to confront his path, and finally, his past.
With brilliant, shimmering prose, Ntshanga has delivered a redemptive, ambitious, and unforgettable first novel.”
by Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma
“Told from the point of view of nine year old Benjamin, the youngest of four brothers, THE FISHERMEN is the Cain and Abel-esque story of an unforgettable childhood in 1990’s Nigeria, in the small town of Akure. When their strict father has to travel to a distant city for work, the brothers take advantage of his extended absence to skip school and go fishing. At the ominous, forbidden nearby river, they meet a dangerous local madman who persuades the oldest of the boys that he is destined to be killed by one of his siblings.
What happens next is an almost mythic event whose impact-both tragic and redemptive-will transcend the lives and imaginations of its characters and its readers. Dazzling and viscerally powerful, The Fishermen never leaves Akure but the story it tells has enormous universal appeal. Seen through the prism of one family’s destiny, this is an essential novel about Africa with all of its contradictions-economic, political, and religious-and the epic beauty of its own culture.
With this bold debut, Chigozie Obioma emerges as one of the most original new voices of modern African literature, echoing its older generation’s masterful storytelling with a contemporary fearlessness and purpose.”
What Will People Say?
by South African author Rehana Rossouw
“In What Will People Say?, a rich variety of township characters—the preachers, the teachers, the gangsters and the defeated—come to life in vivid language as they eke out their lives in the shadows of gray concrete blocks of flats. It is the story of the Fourie family, residents of Hanover Park in the Cape Flats during the height of the struggle era. Which members of the Fourie family will thrive, which ones will not survive? Generously spiced with Cape Flats slang, the novel features vivid and gritty descriptions of the difficult issues faced by those living in this marginalized and disadvantaged community.”
On the Bank of the River
by Nigerian author Ifeoluwapo Adeniyi
“On the Bank of the River liberates many African women who find it difficult to define their place in a world of men. The is a story of the ever ironical nature of love. Adeniyi recounts through a colourful tapestry of perspectives the intriguing stories of coming of age and loss of innocence. Enitan grows up with a certain ill-feeling towards a mother whose past threatens to eclipse the girl’s future. Fleeing from an oppressive maternal love, Enitan runs into the comforting embrace of an aunt whose own life answers the riddles of her mother’s sad existence.”
About the Prize:
“The Etisalat Prize for Literature launched in June 2013 is the first pan-African prize that is open solely to debut fiction writers of African citizenship and has now established itself as the most prestigious literary prize for African fiction.
The distinguished Patrons of the Etisalat Prize are noted African writer Ama Ata Aidoo (Ghana), Pulitzer Prize winner Dele Olojede (Nigeria), Former deputy editor of Granta magazine and former senior editor at Jonathan Cape, Random House, Ellah Allfrey, OBE (UK, Zimbabwe), Writer and Intellectual best known for his works of fiction, Kole Omotoso (Nigeria), Editor, writer, broadcaster, consultant and co-founder of Allison & Busby, Margaret Busby, OBE (UK/Ghana) and Novelist, Poet and Playwright, Zakes Mda (South Africa).”
[source of novel synopsis: amazon.com]