Earlier this year in March, the Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize launched the The Nyabola Prize for Science Fiction. Writers between the ages of 18 and 35 were invited to submit sci-fi and speculative fiction in Swahili. [read here if you missed it.
In a recent interview published in The Conversation, two of the prize’s principal administrators, Mukoma wa Ngugi and Lizzy Attree, comment on the impact of empowering writers to create sci-fi fiction in African language literature.
Lizzy sees the prize as opening up a space to foster new voices in Kiswahili literature. She also notes the impact that the science fiction genre might have on Kiswahili.
Kiswahili is often considered to be steeped in archaic, or historically poetic technical words and forms. These must be updated to accommodate the modern language of science and technology. It has been an interesting adventure to find out which words can be adapted or amended to fit with modern digital and technological advancement.
Mokoma adds that fostering science fiction in African languages changes the narrative that African languages cannot accommodate scientific discourse:
There is also the idea that African languages are social languages, emotive and cannot carry science. Most definitely not true. All languages can convey the most complex ideas but we have to let them. There is something beautiful about African languages carrying science, fictionalised of course, into imagined futures.
He hopes that the prize will contribute to move African literature, more broadly, towards more exploration of non-traditional and non-realist genres:
We inherited a hierarchy of what counts as serious literature from colonialism, the division between minor and major literatures. It is important for us to blur the lines between literary and genre fiction – they are both doing serious work but in different styles. And the same goes between written literature and orature (spoken literature). Orature is seen lesser-than but, as writers and scholars have argued, orature has its own discipline and aesthetics.
Read the full interview here.