In November, we announced The 5 Shortlists for The 2019 Brittle Paper Awards. Launched in 2017 to mark our seventh anniversary, The BP Awards aim to recognize the finest, original pieces of writing by Africans published online—writing that has prompted, enhanced, or defined conversations. The $1,100 prize money 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 site.
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 2017 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.
From our announcement of The 2019 BP Awards Shortlists:
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. 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 year, we invited acclaimed 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. Here are the 25 finalists:
- The 2019 Brittle Paper Award for Fiction: Meet The 5 Finalists
- The 2019 Brittle Paper Award for Poetry: Meet The 5 Finalists
- The 2019 Brittle Paper Award for Creative Nonfiction: Meet The 4 Finalists
- The 2019 Brittle Paper Award for Essays & Think Pieces: Meet The 5 Finalists
- The 2019 Brittle Paper Anniversary Award: Meet The 6 Finalists
Here are the winners of the five categories.
THE BRITTLE PAPER AWARD FOR ESSAYS & THINK PIECES ($200)
From a class of essays & think pieces in which a legacy is solidified, scathing criticisms made, and history re-moulded, we chose “On Black Difficulty: Toni Morrison and the Thrill of Imperiousness,” by Namwali Serpell (Zambia), 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. It was published five months before Morrison’s passing.
READ: “On Black Difficulty: Toni Morrison and the Thrill of Imperiousness” in Slate
THE BRITTLE PAPER ANNIVERSARY AWARD ($300)
From a collection of works in which beautiful storytelling meets the excavation of ideas meets criticism, we chose “Language, Trauma, & Identity Politics in Contemporary African Poetry,” by Cheswayo Mphanza (Zambia) and Nkateko Masinga (South Africa), a stimulating conversation on how the poems in 20.35 Africa: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Vol. I—each poem taken and dissected—explore identity politics, affective fallacy, trauma, and language.
The 20.35 Africa anthology series, which advocates for “multiple conversations on the sensibilities of being African in a modern, global system,” is pushing institutional boundaries in the poetry landscape by facing newer voices. Cornell professor & Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize co-founder Mukoma wa Ngugi has described it as a series that “boldly marks a before and after moment in the African literary tradition.”
READ: “Language, Trauma, & Identity Politics in Contemporary African Poetry” in Brittle Paper
THE BRITTLE PAPER AWARD FOR POETRY ($200)
From a pool of poems in which bodies are brought into light, we chose “Surveillance Camera,” by Ojo Taiye (Nigeria), a poem which, with language beautiful, calm, and poignant, looks at a mother’s retrograde amnesia, prompting a pondering of what respite her child could bring her and a probing for meaning and the nature of memory.
READ: “Surveillance Camera” in Tinderbox Poetry Journal
THE BRITTLE PAPER AWARD FOR CREATIVE NONFICTION ($200)
From an assembly of writing telling stories of places and spaces and time and motherhood, we chose “Excellent Baddie Territory,” by Simone Haysom, an ecosystemic tale of Johannesburg: its myth, its habits, fires, prayers, its forests, its animals, insects, birds, its industries, mining, music.
READ: “Excellent Baddie Territory” in Adda
THE BRITTLE PAPER AWARD FOR FICTION ($200)
From a set of short stories in which we run into fate again and again, invited as we are to contemplate the possibilities of destiny, we chose “After the Birds,” by Ope Adedeji (Nigeria), a thrilling weave of speculation and horror 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.
READ: “After the Birds” in McSweeneys Quarterly
BRITTLE PAPER CONGRATULATES NKATEKO MASINGA, CHESWAYO MPHANZA, OJO TAIYE, SIMONE HAYSOM, NAMWALI SERPELL, AND OPE ADEDEJI.