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Makena Onjerika at the 2018 Caine Prize ceremony. Image from WuzupNigeria via Google.

In an absolute act of authorial philanthropy, 2018 Caine Prize winner Makena Onjerika will be donating a tenth of her £10,000 prize money to street children in Kenya.

Onjerika, who is the fourth Kenyan to take the prize, won for her short story “Fanta Blackcurrant,” published in Wasafiri in 2017, in which a street child in Nairobi, who makes a living from sex trade, is caught stealing and is beaten by local criminals. The judges described “Fanta Blackcurrant” as “a narrative forged but not defined by the streets of Nairobi,” one which “presides over a grammar and architecture of its own making, one that eschews any trace of sentimentality in favour of a narrative that is haunting in its humour, sorrow and intimacy.”

Speaking to BBC, Onjerika said that the money will “help rehabilitate street children.” Onjerika said she chose to write about street children because “Kenyans – me included – do not see street kids as children. There are children, and then there are ‘chokora.'” “Chokora,” a derogatory Swahili term, means “street urchins.”

Makena is a graduate of the MFA Creative Writing programme at New York University, and has been published in Urban Confustions and Wasafiri. She lives in Nairobi, Kenya, and is currently working on a fantasy novel.

As for the rest of the money? “With the rest of the money I’ll buy a car,” she said. “Or maybe a motorcycle to get through traffic jams in Nairobi.”

This is not the first time a Caine Prize winner has shown generosity with their £10,000. In 2015, Namwali Serpell, the first Zambian to win the prize, shared hers with her fellow shortlisters, at £2,000 each. However, the meeting of literature and philanthropy peaks in Aminatta Forna’s astonishing Rogbonko Project, which we covered last year, where the acclaimed novelist has been helping a Sierra Leonean village to rebuild for the past 15 years.

Makena Onjerika will be winning more hearts with this.

READ “FANTA BLACKCURRANT”

CORRECTION:

A previous version of this report, based on a report by BBC, wrongly stated that Makena Onjerika will be donating “half” of her prize money for the rehabilitation. Onjerika has since tweeted to say that it is “a tenth” of the prize money—£1,000.

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Otosirieze 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 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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  1. Writers Can Learn from Onjerika's Caine Prize Gift to the Poor - Syncityng - 2018/07/22

    […] After being confirmed winner of the 2018 Caine prize for literature, Makena Onjerika has touched the hearts of many by her act of absolute authorial philanthropy by declaring that she will be donating a tenth of her £10,000 prize money to street children in Kenya. […]

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