We are excited to announce The 5 Shortlists for the 2019 Brittle Paper Awards. Launched in 2017 to mark our seventh anniversary, the annual Awards aim to recognize the finest, original pieces of literary writing by Africans published online — writing that has prompted, enhanced, or defined conversations. The $1,100 cash prize is split across five categories: The Brittle Paper Award for Fiction ($200), The Brittle Paper Award for Poetry ($200), The Brittle Paper Award for Creative Nonfiction ($200), The Brittle Paper Award for Essays & Think Pieces ($200), and The Brittle Paper Anniversary Award ($300), for writing published on our website.
The Awards extend Brittle Paper‘s overall mission to archive the wealth of African literary production from getting lost in the chaos of social media and the Internet so that readers, publishers, writers, and scholars can stay informed about global trends in the African literary scene, and to ensure that the significance of these works transcends the initial moment of their publication. The BP Awards are the first to recognize Essays & Think Pieces, a category for which we also consider interviews.
The inaugural BP Awards shortlisted 48 pieces. The winners were the South African memoirist Sisonke Msimang for Essays & Think Pieces, the Liberian novelist Hawa Jande Golakai for Creative Nonfiction, the Nigerian poet JK Anowe for Poetry, the South African writer Megan Ross for Fiction, and the Nigerian poet Chibuihe Obi for the Anniversary Award.
The 2018 BP Awards shortlisted 31 pieces. The winners were the South African writer Sibongile Fisher for Creative Nonfiction, the Nigerian-American writer Itiola Jones for Poetry, the Kenyan poet Shailja Patel for the Anniversary Award, the South African writer Stacy Hardy for Fiction, and the South African writer Panashe Chigumadzi for Essays & Think Pieces.
In drawing up The 5 Shortlists, we looked at the quality, significance, and impact of a work, in addition to the work’s aesthetics and formal innovation. We paid attention to works that inspired readers to rethink their assumptions about African writing. Some of our picks have been read and shared widely on social media. All have kindled important conversations and debates or have identified and built on areas still under-explored.
In the works selected for the Fiction category, we run into fate again and again, invited as we are to contemplate the possibilities of destiny. In the Poetry category, bodies are brought into the light. In the Essays & Think Pieces category, a legacy is solidified, scathing criticisms made, and history re-moulded. In the Creative Nonfiction category, we are told stories of places and spaces and time, and of a mother. And in the Anniversary category, beautiful storytelling meets the excavation of ideas meets criticism. Together, these 25 shortlisted pieces reflect the state of contemporary African literary culture.
As Brittle Paper turns nine this year, The BP Awards continue to be of the same significance for us: a celebration not only of writers and their works but also of magazines, journals, and websites, and their editors and publishers, who have set up open spaces where true literary diversity can thrive, and where works speak for themselves.
This is why, this year, we requested respected figures in the literary industry to help us announce The 5 Shortlists via video, which is unprecedented in our literary scene. Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, Chair of the Caine Prize, announced The Fiction Award Shortlist; Sarah Ladipo Manyika, author of Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun, announced The Poetry Award Shortlist; Ato Quayson, Professor of English at Stanford University, announced The Creative Nonfiction Award Shortlist; former winner Sisonke Msimang, author of Always Another Country, announced The Essays & Think Pieces Award Shortlist; and former finalist Romeo Oriogun, winner of the Brunel International African Poetry Prize, announced The Anniversary Award Shortlist.
The winners for all categories will be announced in early December 2019.
THE BRITTLE PAPER AWARD FOR FICTION ($200)
The Brittle Paper Award for Fiction, 2019 – Ellah Wakatama Allfrey @epwa66, Chair of The Caine Prize, announces the shortlist
— BRITTLE PAPER (@brittlepaper) November 19, 2019
“24, Alhaji Williams Street,” by ‘Pemi Aguda (Nigeria), in Zoetrope: All-Story
A mysterious, murderous fever, like the Biblical angel on Passover night, comes for a neighbourhood, house after house, flat after flat, heading for our Brymo-loving narrator in this story of relations between families told with often-delectable rhythm and a controlled awareness.
“Happy City Hotel,” by Adam El Shalakany (Egypt), first published in Hotel Africa: New Short Fiction from Africa, republished online in The Johannesburg Review of Books
An aging man with great boxing dreams put in his place by the world; the young trio of a heterosexual woman, a heterosexual man, and a gay man locked in an unexplored love triangle; a misogynist man who falls in love with a female sex worker; a woman of fire who shapes her own outcomes; a woman coming to meet an online date whose identity shocks—this story, orchestrated with clever skill, is beautiful, observant, and saddening.
“Ghana Boy,” by Frances Ogamba (Nigeria), in Munyori Literary Journal
In this story attentive to street culture and social conditioning, a gang-leading young man terrifying a slum neighbourhood is taken by the dreaded, violently lawless, young men-targeting Nigerian police unit SARS, causing both relief and great panic.
“Monkeys,” by Keletso Mopai (South Africa), first published in If You Keep Digging, republished online in The Johannesburg Review of Books
Through an Afrikaner child’s eye, we see the patriarchy, domestic violence, and race relations play out in a country still settling into the election of its first Black President.
“After the Birds,” by Ope Adedeji (Nigeria), in McSweeneys Quarterly
Speculation and horror are woven into this thrilling alternative-reality story in which everything—from tree leaves to memories to skin to sex to flowers to the titular birds—portends doom, leading up to a haunting ending.
THE BRITTLE PAPER AWARD FOR POETRY ($200)
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The Brittle Paper Award for Poetry, 2019 – Sarah Ladipo Manyika, author of LIKE A MULE BRINGING ICE CREAM TO THE SUN, announces the shortlist. . Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors! Winners will be announced in December . Follow us @brittlepaper for your latest dose of African literary culture . #BPAwards19 #BrittlePaperAwards19 #The5Shortlists
“Surveillance Camera,” by Ojo Taiye (Nigeria), in Tinderbox Poetry Journal
In language beautiful, calm, and poignant, this poem looks at a mother’s retrograde amnesia prompts a pondering of what respite her child could bring her and a probing for meaning and the nature of memory.
“Penance,” by Jamila Osman (Somalia), in The Adirondack Review
With striking, memorable imagery, this poem reckons with the physicality of birth, motherhood, and femaleness across three generations.
“In Praise of a Night of Perdition,” by Wale Ayinla (Nigeria), in Waccamaw
The male subject, in want of affection, transforms.
“Reincarnation,” by Afua Ansong (Ghana & USA), in 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry
A mystical portrait of rebirth or multiplication across generations of women.
“Theory of Plate Tectonics,” by Kemi Alabi (Nigeria), in The Rumpus
Women renegotiating, and freeing themselves from, their relationships with men is likened to geographical formations, with some sharp kitchen imagery.
THE BRITTLE PAPER AWARD FOR ESSAYS & THINK PIECES ($200)
The Brittle Paper Award for Essays, 2019 – Sisongke Msimang, author of ALWAYS ANOTHER COUNTRY, announces the shortlist.
#BPAwards19 #BrittlePaperAwards19 #The5Shortlists
Posted by Brittle Paper on Tuesday, November 19, 2019
“Writing Like Degas Paints,” by Sulaiman Adonnia (Eritrea), in Granta
In this reminder of the power of the body to ignite artistic imagination, Degas’s representations of nude women represents a peculiar experience of the body in the context of performance.
“Why I’m No Longer Talking to Nigerians About Race,” by Panashe Chigumadzi (South Africa & Zimbabwe), in Africa Is a Country
A powerful, if contentious, case for racial, Black, and African solidarity politics necessitated by an oppressive globally linked coloniality, one aimed at a perceived reluctance by many in the most populous black country in the world. The conversation it started, which drew responses, has since degenerated following yet another outbreak of xenophobic violence in South Africa, much of it targeted at Nigerians.
“On Black Difficulty: Toni Morrison and the Thrill of Imperiousness,” by Namwali Serpell (Zambia), in Slate
A solid case for the hard-won privilege of Toni Morrison—the greatest living writer until her passing, “our only truly canonical black, female writer”—to revel in personal freedom and freeing literariness, a privilege earned despite the historical and continuous denigration of black womanhood. Published five months before Morrison’s passing, pieces like this safeguard legacies.
“Trauma and a Victim Complex in Nigerian Writing,” by Oris Aigbokhaevbolo (Nigeria), in Brittle Paper
A criticism of a tendency in recent Nigerian creative nonfiction towards a victim complex not delivered in appealing prose; it establishes how the underdevelopment of readership in the country conditions young writers to face the West, which buys mostly stories of trauma, with the writers themselves focusing on subject at the expense of style.
“Writing About the Forgotten Black Women of the Italo-Ethiopian War,” by Maaza Mengiste (Ethiopia), in Literary Hub
An observation of the decentering of women’s stories in warfare, the re-presentation of women to channel men’s perceptions of themselves, and how the heroine in her novel The Shadow King mirrors the women in her family, joining a long trail of female resistance that male-presented history has rendered invisible.
THE BRITTLE PAPER AWARD FOR CREATIVE NONFICTION ($200)
The Brittle Paper Award for Creative Non-Fiction, 2019 – Ato Quayson, Professor of English at Stanford University, announces the shortlist
— BRITTLE PAPER (@brittlepaper) November 19, 2019
“After Three Children, Reclaiming My Body and My Mind,” by Ukamaka Olisakwe (Nigeria), in Long Reads
A mother’s affecting, 17-year story: how she reckoned with the bodily harm of childbirth and with postpartum depression, and how she subsequently recovered her life.
“Excellent Baddie Territory,” by Simone Haysom (South Africa), in Adda
An ecosystemic tale of a city: its myth, its habits, fires, prayers, its forests, its animals, insects, birds, its industries, mining, music.
“A Triangle of Time and Aging,” by Ebenezer Agu (Nigeria), in Brittle Paper
A quiet interrogation of the nature of time, space, and memory, tendered in dignified prose.
“The Smell of Oxford,” by Tope Owolabi (Nigeria), in The Book Banque
A famed city sensually reveals itself in this pleasurable reflection on the beauty of friendship and life’s meanings.
THE BRITTLE PAPER ANNIVERSARY AWARD ($300)
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The Brittle Paper Anniversary Award, 2019 – Romeo Oriogun @romeo_oriogun, author of MUSEUM OF SILENCE, announces the shortlist. . Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors! Winners will be announced in December . Follow us @brittlepaper for your latest dose of African literary culture . #BPAwards19 #BrittlePaperAwards19 #The5Shortlists
“Songbird,” by Innocent Acan Immaculate (Uganda), FICTION, in Go the Way Your Blood Beats: Short Fiction from Africa
In this beautiful, powerful story, a girl, possessed by a strange force at birth, grows into a super-talented singer for whom her allure is laden with grave danger.
“Negritude Is Omnipresent in African Writing: On Its Birth, Rebellion, & Disappearance,” by D.S. Battistoli (USA), ESSAY
A demonstration of how Negritude—once dismissed by Anglophone African writers of the first generation, now wrongly regarded as a passed phase—continues to influence contemporary literature from the continent.
“The Kenyan Literary Hustle,” by Carey Baraka (Kenya), ESSAY
A reflection on the state of the Kenyan literary scene, its paucity of books, the fizzling out of its collectives, the futile irony of community work, and the absence of infrastructure that pushes young writers to leave the country.
“Language, Trauma, & Identity Politics in Contemporary African Poetry,” by Cheswayo Mphanza (Zambia) & Nkateko Masinga (South Africa), CONVERSATION
In this stimulating conversation, two contributors to 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry discuss trauma, language, identity politics, affective fallacy, and the poems in the anthology.
“Who Is More Left Than the Other?,” by Tee Ngugi (Kenya), ESSAY
Accusations by some ultra-left intellectuals that Adichie has cosied up to power following her high-profile 2018 conversations with Hilary Clinton and Michelle Obama are dissected here as a contest for self-righteousness by a prescriptive group unwilling to acknowledge nuance.