Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 3,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

Maryse Conde.

Maryse Conde, the French-Guadeloupean author of I, Tituba: Black Witch of Salem (1986), Segu (1987), A Season in Rihata (1988), and Tree of Life (1992) among other books, won the Alternative to the Nobel Prize in Literature. The New Academy Prize, which was established this year because of a scandal in the Nobel Prize-awarding Swedish Academy, was awarded as “A reminder that literature should be associated with democracy, openness, empathy, and respect. In a time when human values are increasingly being called into question, literature becomes the counterforce of oppression and a code of silence.”

The question of literary prizes has been in the public domain for decades, but critics are still divided on whether the prizes have an impact on African literary production. Some believe literary prizes should have no place in the craft of writing while others believe that prizes are fundamentally significant in promoting a writer’s work because they draw attention to new works or regenerate interest in old books that merit recognition. Major awards such as the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Man Booker Prize are usually treated with great fanfare and have become part of literary calendars around the world. Receiving any of the awards is akin to getting a stamp of approval that identifies one as having achieved excellence in writing.

Unfortunately, fewer African writers have managed to receive these prizes. Since its inception in 1901, the Nobel Prize for Literature has awarded only six prizes to African writers—and this list includes Doris Lessing and Albert Camus who may be affiliated to other nationalities. Many have criticized this Prize for its eurocentrism tendencies that ignore literature from the continent.

So then, is the problem with the institutions that award the prizes or the very idea of awarding and receiving awards? Should writers accept honoraria of any sort? Jean-Paul Sartre rejected the 1964 Nobel Prize for Literature because he did not want to be institutionalized as a writer. In an essay published in The New York Review of Books, he argues:

A writer who adopts political, social, or literary positions must act only with the means that are his own—that is, the written word. All the honors he may receive expose his readers to a pressure I do not consider desirable. If I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre it is not the same thing as if I sign myself Jean-Paul Sartre, Nobel Prize winner. The writer who accepts an honor of this kind involves as well as himself the association or institution which has honored him . . . The writer must, therefore, refuse to let himself be transformed into an institution, even if this occurs under the most honorable circumstances.

It appears then that individual writers approach the issue of literary prizes differently and it would be unreasonable for critics to impose their views on writers. In my view, writers should be allowed to decide on what honoraria they can or cannot accept or keep.

Vincent Ogoti is a journalist, playwright, and literary editor. His first book, A Shadow in the Sun, will be released later this year.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

On Black and Arab Identities: Safia Elhillo’s Arab American Book Awards Acceptance Speech

Safia Elhillo - tcb book club (2)

Safia Elhillo has won the 2018 Arab American Book Award, also known as the George Ellenbogen Poetry Award, for her […]

Attend the Second Edition of the Write with Style Workshop with Oris Aigbokhaevbolo

Oris Aigbokhaevbolo (2)

Following the first edition of the Write With Style Workshop, the award-winning writer, critic, and journalist Oris Aigbokhaevbolo is hosting […]

Ngugi’s Novel, Matigari, Is Being Adapted to Film by Nollywood Director Kunle Afolayan

Kenyan author Ngugi wa ThiongÕo, Distinguished Professor of English and comparative literature at UC Irvine, is on the short list for the 2010 Nobel Prize in literature, for xxx(add phrase or blurb here from award announcement; 

Chancellor quote? Christine writing and getting approved quote).

Ngugi, whose name is pronounced ÒGoogyÓ and means Òwork,Ó is a prolific writer of novels, plays, essays and childrenÕs literature. Many of these have skewered the harsh sociopolitical conditions of post-Colonial Kenya, where he was born, imprisoned by the government and forced into exile.

His recent works have been among his most highly acclaimed and include what some consider his finest novel, ÒMurogi wa KagogoÓ (ÒWizard of the CrowÓ), a sweeping 2006 satire about globalization that he wrote in his native Gikuyu language. In his 2009 book ÒSomething Torn & New: An African Renaissance,Ó Ngugi argues that a resurgence of African languages is necessary to the restoration of African wholeness.

ÒI use the novel form to explore issues of wealth, power and values in society and how their production and organization in society impinge on the quality of a peopleÕs spiritual life,Ó he has said.

Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s 1987 novel Matigari is being adapted to film by Nollywood director Kunle Afolayan in a co-production with yet undisclosed Kenyan […]

Safia Elhillo Makes a Fashion Statement at the Arab American Book Awards

Safia Elhillo - tcb book club (2)

From Taiye Selasi’s dreamy designer collections and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s flayed ankara sleeves and Dior collaboration to Alain Mabanckou’s dapper […]

Read Chapter One of Nuruddin Farah’s New Novel, North of Dawn

nuruddin farah boundary2.org

Celebrated Somali writer Nuruddin Farah’s new novel will be out on 4 December 2018. The 384-page North of Dawn—described as “a provocative, […]

#WeLoveBooks | Feeling and Ugly by Danai Mupotsa

welovebooks (6)

Welcome back to our weekly updates on new book finds. Feeling and Ugly by Danai Mupotsa is a gem. Feeling […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.