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binyavanga-wainaina

Image via Nairobi Wire

I woke up this morning, dutifully writing a blogpost about the Nobel Prize when I received a message from a friend about some major drama taking place on Wainaina Binyavanga’s twitter feed. I hurried off to Twitter and saw a string of angry tweets criticizing The Caine Prize for African Fiction. 

Here is how I understand his concerns: 

He thinks that in the African—especially Nigerian—literary scene, we accord the Caine Prize for African fiction far too much significance than it deserves.

How can this foreign literary institution purport to define all that is best and awesome in contemporary African fiction?

Dear Caine Prize,” he says, “u made nothing, produced nothing, distributed nothing. U give a Prize of cash money and publicity. That is it.” Why then do we hold this prize up to some undeserved pedestal and, in the process, neglect our homegrown literary institutions such as Farafina Workshop, Kwani, and so on? 

He even goes as far as calling out specific individuals like Lizzy Attree, one of the organizers of Caine Prize, asking her to respond to his remarks and the Nigerian writer, Elnathan John, challenging him to a debate. {READ Elnathan’s response HERE.}

 To those who accuse him of biting the hand that fed him—Binyavanga received the Caine Prize in 2002—his answer is: so what! Winning the Caine Prize does not prevent him from expressing honest criticism. Besides, Caine Prize is not entirely responsible for his success as a writer. It’s taken him 12 years of hard work to get to where he is.

Here is how it started: 

Binyavanga first aired his quarrel with the Caine Prize a few weeks ago during a This is Africa interview with Nigerian journalist, Chiagozie Nwonwu

“I give the Caine Prize its due credit but it just isn’t our institution. All these young people who are ending up in that place were built up by many people’s work.” 

He also says: “What is  happening is you people are allowing the Caine Prize to receive funding and build itself as a brand and make money and people’s career there in London while the vast majority of [African] institutions are vastly underfunded and vastly ungrown, and they are the ones who create the ground that is building these new writers.”

He also criticized what he saw as a Nigerian literary “addiction” to Caine Prize to the neglect of local literary platforms like Farafina and Saraba

In these tweets, however, Binyavanga seems to have turned up the heat a notch. His tone is a bit more aggressive and condescending. So now I’m wondering. Is there something he is not telling us about his concerns about Caine Prize? Is there something else eating him? Has Caine Prize done this really bad thing that he’s not wanting to share?

I’m choosing to stay out of the drama for now and maintain an objective distance. Read the tweets below. And let me know what you think. 

 

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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.

28 Responses to “Drama Alert | “Shine Your Fucking Eyes” | Read Binyavanga’s “Dear Caine Prize” Rant” Subscribe

  1. Tee October 11, 2014 at 11:01 am #

    Wow. He leaves no stones unturned. This also just makes me query the NLNG prize. There is lots more to do than pack cash and give to writers. Why would you fund just one person when there are problems to solve–the distribution challenge in Nigeria for example?

    Is it lack of ideas? Or lack of muscle to? How about NLNG–for instance–use that money to solve the big problem that is our distribution? And don’t be surprised, the same challenge that book distribution faces, movies, music also face. So, solve one problem, solve many problems…but give the money to one person who eats, farts it and ends. Many times, you don’t even hear of most of them after the prize.

    Such prizes are like making superstars in a society where people are starving…you know, as we say in Nigeria all #nawash. Yes, you get this money and they don’t know your writing in your village, yet you are not read…yet, no one knows you except the small literary community where everyone knows everyone…

    There certainly is more that can be done than giving out stomach infrastructure that will digest and get farted off. Let us build real infrastructures 😉

    My one kobo thoughts!

  2. Manny October 11, 2014 at 7:43 pm #

    Dude has been smoking some strong weed

  3. Jerà October 11, 2014 at 11:42 pm #

    Maybe Binya’s hairdresser left the dye on too long 🙂

    Okay, seriously, only Binya can get away with this. Which I guess is a measure of his literary clout.

    My view: if we arent happy with the Caine Prize, then why not build up other awards/institutions until they eclipse the Caine. New institutions can be built without necessarily demolishing the Caine.

    My pen is capped

    Jerà
    Twitter @jeraZw

  4. Kalwol October 12, 2014 at 5:59 am #

    Who is the Mehul Gohil he mentions?

  5. IfeOluwa October 12, 2014 at 7:15 am #

    I think I’ll file Binj under the same folder as Naipaul after this: writers to read their work but never their interviews.

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  14. Godfrey May 8, 2015 at 5:49 am #

    I feel this guy,I mean there is more that needs to be done for African literature than organizing some competitions to glamorize the organizers.We need publishing,marketing etc.Writing should never be competitive,every writer has his or her flavour.Soyinka,Cyprian,Ola,Abubakar,etc Are all great

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] you haven’t read the tweets that had the African literary twitterati abuzz and upset, click HERE. Trust me, you won’t be […]

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    […] Binyavanga “shine your fucking eyes” Wainaina for those who might be living in a rock somewhere is the Caine Prize winner who set up Kwani Trust a bit over a decade ago as well as the man who long listed the Africa 39 authors. His piece is called, “Wangechi Mutu wonders why butterfly wings leave powder on the fingers, there was a coup today in Kenya.” I had a read of the piece and I have to say that i was confounded by it. It recounts the tale of Wangechi Mutu one of the most celebrated visual artists from Kenya from her childhood until she lands in the US and her growth in her career. The piece is jarring to me as it uses numbers to tell the tale. Here is number 1-5 (there are 137 numbers) […]

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    […] Binyavanga “shine your fucking eyes” Wainaina for those who might be living in a rock somewhere is the Caine Prize winner who set up Kwani Trust a bit over a decade ago as well as the man who long listed the Africa 39 authors. His piece is called, “Wangechi Mutu wonders why butterfly wings leave powder on the fingers, there was a coup today in Kenya.” I had a read of the piece and I have to say that I was confounded by it. It recounts the tale of Wangechi Mutu one of the most celebrated visual artists from Kenya from her childhood until she lands in the US and her growth in her career. The piece is jarring to me as it uses numbers to tell the tale. Here is number 1-5 (there are 137 numbers) […]

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