Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 5,000 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

Bernardine Evaristo: Your Guide to All Eight Books by the Booker Prize Winner

bernardine evaristo by jennie scott - graph

While better known in the African literary scene as the founder of the massively influential Brunel International African Poetry Prize, […]

TJ Benson’s Forthcoming Novel, The Madhouse, Follows a Troubled Family Across Four Decades

tj benson - graph

The Nigerian writer TJ Benson has a new novel set to be published by Masobe Books in 2020. A new […]

The Guardian UK Criticized for Headline Calling Bernardine Evaristo’s Booker Prize-winning Novel Obscure

bernardine evaristo - girl, woman, other - somethingbookish

Right after Bernardine Evaristo and Margaret Atwood were announced joint winners of the 2019 Booker Prize for Fiction, the UK’s […]

Bernardine Evaristo’s Joint Win of the Booker Prize, with Margaret Atwood, Makes Her the First Black Woman & Second Nigerian to Receive the Honour

bernardine evaristo by jennie scott - graph

The Nigerian-British novelist Bernardine Evaristo has been awarded the 2019 Booker Prize for Fiction, for her novel Girl, Woman, Other, […]

The Queen of Dahomey: Episode Three | The Witches of Auchi Series | Anthony Azekwoh

5F1614B1-66B7-4191-94D8-30BD62A651A9

There was an old woman with a ragged scar on her cheek who lived alone on the outskirts of Dahomey. […]

Befeqadu Hailu, Ethiopian Writer-Activist & Co-founder of Zone 9 Blog, Named 2019 International Writer of Courage

Befeqadu Hailu with Lemn Sissay at PEN Pinter Prize ceremony Photo credit to George Torode

Befeqadu Hailu, the Ethiopian writer, activist, and co-founder of the Amharic-language human rights platform Zone 9 Blogging Collective, has been […]

Thanks for signing up!

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

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.