Etisalat Book Judges Retreat, Spier South Africa.
Panel of Judges — Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwe), Sarah Ladipo Manyinka (Nigeria), and Jamal Mahjoub (Sudan)

The Etisalat Prize for Literature kicks off the African literary award season with a ceremony taking place this weekend at the Intercontinental Hotel in Lagos.

It’s hard to believe a year has gone by since Noviolet Bulawayo won the maiden edition of the prize with her critically acclaimed novel, We Need New Names.

The prize is sponsored by the telecommunications company, Etisalat, and is awarded to the best debut fiction by an African writer. The inaugural edition, which took place last year, ended on a high note. Most people in the African literary community seemed quite pleased with the search process and delivery of the award.

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As Matthew Willsher, the CEO of Etisalat Nigeria remarks, the objective of the prize is to “celebrate African fiction writers and the publishing industry” by “reward[ing] new talents and encourag[ing] further involvement in literature.”

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This year, the search ends on March 15th when the panel of judges, chaired by Sarah Ladipo Manyinka, decides who among Nadia Davids (South Africa), Chinelo Okparanta (Nigeria), and Songesiwe Mahlangu (South Africa) takes home the 15,000 dollar prize.

All three authors are masterful in their own right. Nadia Davids’ An Imperfect Blessing is a coming of age story about a girl caught between the throes of adolescence and the last but stormy years of apartheid. Chinelo Okparanta’s Happiness, Like Water is a collection of stories that the New York Times describes as a “powerful” blend of “heated” plot and measured prose. Songeziwe Mahlangu’s Penumbra is a dark drama exploring psychosis and religious fundamentalism.

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In addition to taking home a 15,000 dollar check, the winning author will also be presented with an engraved Montblanc Meisterstück pen, retailing for as much as 2000 dollars, and a Fellowship at the University of East Anglia.

We are, of course, also looking forward to the judges’ decision on the flash fiction prize. Who, among the three shortlisted writers—Chinua Ezenwa-Ohaeto, Irabor Justin Ikhide, and Neemah Komba—will take the prize home?

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Too bad we won’t be there at the ceremony where Angelique Kidjo will perform for a full house of critics, bloggers, writers, industry heavyweights, and academics. But don’t worry. We have eyes out there keeping tabs for us. So be rest assured that we will bring you the scoop on what went down.