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Alain Mabanckou.

Congolese star author Alain Mabanckou’s 11th novel Black Moses and Nigerian The New Yorker staff-writer Alexis Okeowo’s nonfiction book A Moonless, Starless Sky: Ordinary Women and Men Fighting Extremism in Africa have been longlisted for the 2018 PEN America Awards—Mabanckou for the PEN Translation Prize, Okeowo for the PEN Open Book Award.

The PEN Translation Prize is awarded “for a book-length translation of prose from any language into English published in 2017.” Alain Mabanckou’s Black Moses, published by The New Press and translated from the French by Helen Stevenson, is up against: The Book of Emma Reyes, by Emma Reyes, translated from the Spanish by Daniel Alarcon; The Book of Whispers, by Varujan Vosganian, translated from the Romanian by Alistair Ian Blyth; A Horse Walks into a Bar, by David Grossman, translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen; Out in the Open, by Jesus Carrasco, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa; The Impossible Fairy Tale, by Han Yujoo, translated from the Korean by Janet Hong; Affections: A Novel, by Rodrigo Hasbun, translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes; Notes of a Crocodile, by Qiu Miaojin, translated from the Chinese by Bonnie Huie; Bark, by Georges Didi-Huberman, translated from the French by Samuel Martin; and Katalin Street, by Magda Szabo, translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix.

Earning major praise from The New York Times, The New YorkerLos Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal, Mabanckou’s Black Moses has been described as “Oliver Twist in 1970s Africa,” shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize and longlisted for the Aspen Words Literary Prize. Here is a description from Amazon.

It’s not easy being Tokumisa Nzambe po Mose yamoyindo abotami namboka ya Bakoko. There’s that long name of his for a start, which means, “Let us thank God, the black Moses is born on the lands of the ancestors.” Most people just call him Moses. Then there’s the orphanage where he lives, run by a malicious political stooge, Dieudonné Ngoulmoumako, and where he’s terrorized by two fellow orphans―the twins Songi-Songi and Tala-Tala.

But after Moses exacts revenge on the twins by lacing their food with hot pepper, the twins take Moses under their wing, escape the orphanage, and move to the bustling port town of Pointe-Noire, where they form a gang that survives on petty theft. What follows is a funny, moving, larger-than-life tale that chronicles Moses’s ultimately tragic journey through the Pointe-Noire underworld and the politically repressive world of Congo-Brazzaville in the 1970s and 80s.

Mabanckou’s vivid portrayal of Moses’s mental collapse echoes the work of Hugo, Dickens, and Brian DePalma’s Scarface, confirming Mabanckou’s status as one of our great storytellers. Black Moses is a vital new extension of his cycle of Pointe-Noire novels that stand out as one of the grandest, funniest, fictional projects of our time.

Alexis Okeowo.

For the PEN Open Book Award, which is given “to an exceptional book-length work of any genre by an author of color, published in the United States in 2017,” Alexis Okeowo’s A Moonless, Starless Sky is up against: Some Say The Lark, by Jennifer Chang; Eastman Was Here, by Alex Gilvarry; My Soul Looks Back: A Memoir, by Jessica B. Harris; Augustown, by Kei Miller; The Tower of the Antilles, by Achy Obejas; For Want of Water: and other poems, by Sasha Pimentel; Lessons on Expulsion: Poems, by Erika L. Sánchez; Ordinary Beast: Poems, by Nicole Sealey; and Because When God Is Too Busy: Haiti, me & THE WORLD, by Gina Athena Ulysse.

A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, Okeowo’s A Moonless, Starless Sky has been featured as recommended reading by Amazon, Elle,Vogue, W, The Cut, and LitHub. Here is a decription from Amazon.

In the tradition of Behind the Beautiful Forevers, this is a masterful, humane work of literary journalism by New Yorker staff writer Alexis Okeowo–a vivid narrative of Africans who are courageously resisting their continent’s wave of fundamentalism.

In A Moonless, Starless Sky, Okeowo weaves together four narratives that form a powerful tapestry of modern Africa: a young couple, kidnap victims of Joseph Kony’s LRA; a Mauritanian waging a lonely campaign against modern-day slavery; a women’s basketball team flourishing amid war-torn Somalia; and a vigilante who takes up arms against the extremist group Boko Haram. This debut book by one of America’s most acclaimed young journalists illuminates the inner lives of ordinary people doing the extraordinary–lives that are too often hidden, underreported, or ignored by the rest of the world.

This time last year, the 2017 PEN America Awards longlist had six African authors: Teju Cole, Yaa Gyasi, Imbolo Mbue, Igoni A. Barrett, Petina Gappah, and Helen Oyeyemi.

Congratulations to Alain Mabanckou and Alexis Okeowo.

Find out more HERE.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young, writer and journalist, is Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. He is a judge for the 2018/19 Gerald Kraak Prize and the 2019 Miles Morland Writing Scholarships. He is an editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is the curator of the Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He has an M.A. in African Studies and a combined honours B.A. in History & International Studies and English & Literary Studies, both from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He taught English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

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