The 2017 Baileys Prize shortlist was announced yesterday and, to our wild excitement, Ayobami Adebayo’s debut novel Stay with Me is on it. The 28-year-old’s inclusion makes her the fourth African ever, in the prize’s twenty-one-year existence, to be shortlisted, joining Nigeria’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (in 2004 for Purple Hibiscus, in 2007 when she won for Half of a Yellow Sun, and in 2014 for Americanah), Sierra Leonean-Scottish Aminatta Forna (in 2011 for The Memory of Love), and Ghanaian-Canadian Esi Edugyan (in 2012 for Half Blood Blues). Like Adichie in 2004, Ayobami is the only debut novelist on the list.
The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, once the Orange Prize for Fiction, is one of the most prestigious literary prizes and is open to only women writing in English. Aside from its 30,000 pounds prize-money, winning it is an automatic career-changer in terms of publicity and, crucially, regard. The Guardian explains that a novel that might only sell 2,000 copies could sell 500,000 if it wins the Baileys women’s prize for fiction or the Man Booker prize. And it has also been publicized that the Baileys Prize winners outsell winners of the Booker.
In the spirit of Chris Cleave’s Little Bee and Emma Donoghue’s Room, this unforgettable novel set in Nigeria gives voice to both husband and wife as they tell the story of their marriage–and the forces that threaten to tear it apart.
Yejide and Akin have been married since they met and fell in love at university. Though many expected Akin to take several wives, he and Yejide have always agreed: polygamy is not for them. But four years into their marriage–after consulting fertility doctors and healers, trying strange teas and unlikely cures–Yejide is still not pregnant. She assumes she still has time–until her family arrives on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin’s second wife. Furious, shocked, and livid with jealousy, Yejide knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant. Which, finally, she does–but at a cost far greater than she could have dared to imagine. An electrifying novel of enormous emotional power, Stay With Me asks how much we can sacrifice for the sake of family.
On the longlist with Ayobami was Yewande Omotoso’s The Woman Next Door. With Ayobami on the shortlist now is the winner of the 2000 prize Linda Grant, for The Dark Circle; Naomi Alder, for The Power; C.E. Morgan, for The Sport of Kings; Gwendoline Riley, for First Love; and Madeleine Thiene, for the 2016 Booker-shortlisted Do Not Say We Have Nothing.
Coincidentally, one of the prize’s previous African finalists, Aminatta Forna, is on the panel of judges, alongside journalist Sam Baker, comedian Sara Pascoe, broadcaster Katie Derham, and the chair Tessa Ross.
The prize, which after this year will no longer be sponsored by the liqueur company Baileys, was won in 2016 by Lisa McInerny for The Glorious Heresies. The 2017 winner will be announced on June 7 at the Royal Festival Hall in London.
Needless to say, we are rooting for Ayobami. Congratulations to her for this remarkable feat!
Post image from Ventures Africa via Google.
Book photo from Press and Journal via Google.