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Lesley Nneka Arimah.

Nigeria’s Lesley Nneka Arimah and Ayobami Adebayo and South Africa’s Marcus Low are the three finalists for the 2018 9Mobile Prize for Literature, for their respective books, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, Stay with Me, and Asylum. 

Founded in 2013 as the Etisalat Prize for Literature, the £15,000 award is the first pan-African literary prize created to honour only debut books of fiction—novels or short story collections. The finalists were chosen from a nine-name longlist which also included: Like it Matters, by David Cornwell; Radio Sunrise, by Anietie Isong; Taduno’s Song, by Odafe Atogun; The Printmaker, by Bronwyn Law-Viljoen; Being Kari, by Qarnita Loxton; and A Casualty of Power, by Mukuka Chipanta.

Ayobami Adebayo.

The judges are: Harry Garuba, who is the chair; Doreen Baingana; and Siphiwo Mahala. Here are Garuba’s comments on their choices:

“These three books embody what we would like to see coming from young African writers – fresh storylines, intriguing plots and characters you would want to meet in real life. We are happy to have reached this stage. Knowing the high standards desired by the 9mobile Prize for Literature, we ensured that the adjudication process was objective, while upholding quality and relevance. We congratulate 9mobile and the shortlisted writers, and note that the entire exercise we went through gives us a glimpse of an even more promising and rewarding literary industry for African writers.”

9mobile’s Director, Brand and Experience, Elvis Ogiemwanye, had this to say:

“We at 9mobile have always been amazed by the resilience and commitment of writers on the continent in spite of the huge challenges they face. This was, in fact, one of the reasons we initiated the prize and it’s heartwarming that we are almost at the end of another cycle. We are as excited as the rest of Africa and can’t wait to see who will emerge winner at the grand finale. I’m sure it will be a great outing, with African literature the better for it.”

Marcus Low. Image from Twitter.

The winner will be announced at the prize ceremony in 2018, and will, in addition to £15,000, receive an engraved Montblanc Meisterstück pen and a sponsored fellowship at the University of East Anglia, where they will be mentored by Professor Giles Foden, author of The Last King of Scotland.

In addition to 9Mobile purchasing 1,000 copies of each of the shortlisted books for distribution to schools, libraries and book clubs across the continent, all the finalists will further participate in a multi-city book tour. These initiatives are in fulfillment of the company’s goal of making books available across the continent, and developing the publishing industry.

Previous winners of the Prize are: Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo in 2014, for We Need New Names; South Africa’s Songeziwe Mahlangu in 2015, for Penumbra; DR Congo’s Fiston Mwanza Mujila in 2016, for Tram 83; and Nigeria’s Jowhor Ile in 2017, for And After Many Days.

Congratulations to Ayobami Adebayo, Lesley Nneka Arimah, and Marcus Low.

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Otosirieze is deputy editor of Brittle Paper. He is a judge for the 2018/19 Gerald Kraak Prize. 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 combined English and History at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is completing a postgraduate degree in African Studies, and 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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