Mali Kambandu. Image from Kalemba Short Story Prize.

The inaugural Kalemba Short Story Prize has gone to Mali Kambandu for her short story, “A Hand to Hold,” described by the judges as “griping and beautifully told.” The $1000 prize—funded and administered by the publishing company Ukusefya WORDS—is awarded to the best work of original and unpublished short fiction written in English by a Zambian. A total of 317 entries were received for the competition.

“A Hand to Hold” focuses on “a middle class family whose fragile bond is threatened by the resurfacing of their former house maid.” The judges described it as weaving “the themes of class, loyalty, sacrifice and love in contemporary Zambia.”

“It is an honour and affirmation,” Kambandu said of her win. “The fact that it’s a Zambian award makes it so much more meaningful.”

Finalists for the prize include Peter Nawa’s “A Degree of Alone,” 17-year-old Sampa Musaba’s “The Mango Tree,” Andrew Nguvu’s “God of the Mind,” Mutinta Nanchengwa’s “The Legacy of Moombe,” and Collins Chanda’s “A Broken Road in Utopia.”

The judging panel comprised: 2015 Caine Prize winner and UC Berkerly Assistant Professor of English, Namwali Serpell, who is Zambian; Zambian writer Mulenga Kapwepwe; Brittle Paper editor and Marquette University Assistant Professor of Literature, Ainehi Edoro; and Kenyan novelist and Cornell University Assistant Professor of English, Mukoma Wa Ngugi, who is the chair. Here is their comment on the winning work.

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A dark yet gripping read. We were moved by this story about domestic workers and the ties that bind them to the very same families that discard them. A surprising, beautifully told story that centers the voices that we often think of as living on the margins.

A graduate of the University of Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, Kambandu had a short stint writing screenplays in the US before returning to Zambia. She has written short films, documentaries and feature films, including Ulendo wa Rose, Old-time Love, Long-time Love, and The President’s Job Description. She works and lives in Lusaka with her husband and children.

THE ZAMBIAN LITERARY SCENE

Zambia’s best-known writer at the moment is one of the finest short story writers on the continent as well as one of its leading prose stylists: Namwali Serpell, whose “The Sack” won the 2015 Caine Prize and whose “Triptych: Texas Pool Party” was the subject of a feature by us early this year and was shortlisted for the inaugural Brittle Paper Award for Fiction.

James Murua’s Literature Blog has some context to the Zambian literary scene:

While Serpell is the flavour of the moment, she’s not the only Zambian writer out there of course. There is Ellen Banda-Aaku with novels like Patchwork (2011) and Madam 1st Lady (2016) to her name as well as numerous books for children as well as short stories featuring in publications galore. Also there is Binwell Sinyangwe has the Quills of Desire (1996) and A Cowrie of Hope (2000) and the “original Zambian writer” Wilbur Smith who has written well, all the novels.

Mali Kambandu will now be presented with the award at a special ceremony to be held in Lusaka in May.

The 2019 Kalemba Prize will open later in the year.

Congratulations to Mali Kambandu.

Read Mali Kambandu’s “A Hand to Hold” HERE.