Ethiopian-American writer Meron Hadero wins the 2021 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story titled “The Street Sweep.” Chair of the judging panel, Goretti Kyomuhendo, shared the news during the online award ceremony held on July 26 in the form of a film shared on Youtube. [Watch here]
Hadero makes history as the first Ethiopian winner in the prize’s 21-year history. She wins the prize on her second shortlisting. In 2019, she was shortlisted for her story “The Wall.” This time around, Hadero was shortlisted alongside Rémy Ngamije, Doreen Baingana, Troy Onyango, and Iryn Tushabe. She gets £10,000 while her fellow shortlistees will receive £500 each.
The winning story “The Street Sweep” appeared in the San Francisco-based literary journal ZYZZYVA in 2018. It tells “the story of Getu, an Ethiopian boy at a crossroad of his life as he negotiates the imported power dynamics of foreign aid in Addis Ababa. Set against the backdrop of personal trauma, threatening displacement and forced expropriation, the young narrator weighs his opportunities and soon understands the game of survival that leads the story to culminate in a hopeful twist. In this beautiful tale, the street sweep accounts for the young, ingenuous generation, determined to push open the doors previously closed on them.”
The judging panel, which comprised of Ugandan-born journalist Razia Iqbal, Nigerian multimedia artist Victor Ehikhamenor, Zimbabwean-born broadcast journalist Georgina Godwin, and Ugandan poet Nick Makoha, was struck by the story’s “redeeming power of hope.”
In her remarks on the decision of the panel, Chair Kyomuhendo praises Hadero for humanizing Getu’s experience: “The genius of this story lies in Hadero’s ability to turn the lens on the clichéd, NGO story in Africa to ‘do good and do it well’…Utterly without self-pity, it is Getu’s naivety that endears us to him.”
She describes the writing as “superbly crafted” and the language as “fluid, and weighted with colour and memorable symbolism.” She adds: “What stood out for the judges was the story’s subtle, but powerful ending, and how everything comes brilliantly together in a clever twist, that sees Getu transform; and the reader pushed to question the thin line between ‘making it’, and the necessary subjugation of the soul.”
Hadero was born in Addis Ababa and has lived in the US since she was a child. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan, a JD from Yale, and a BA in history from Princeton. She won the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing in 2020. She has published extensively in major literary platforms. Last year, her story “Kind Stranger” was published in Addis Ababa Noir, the critically acclaimed anthology of Ethiopian crime stories edited by Maaza Mengiste. Her work has also appeared in Ploughshares, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, New England Review, Best American Short Stories, among others.
Though the 2021 AKO Caine Prize award season is officially closed, there is more to look forward to. An anthology featuring the five shortlisted stories will be published by The New Internationalist and co-published in 16 African countries.
Congrats to Hadero! But also, congrats to the panel of judges, AKO Caine Prize chair Ellah Wakatama OBE, Event Producer Sarah Ozo-Irabor, and the whole AKO Caine team for bringing the community yet another brilliant award season.