Nigerian writer Ani Kayode Somtochukwu wins the inaugural James Currey Prize for African Literature with his manuscript And Then He Sang a Lullaby, described by the judges as “breathtaking.” The award comes with a cash prize of £1,000.

Kayode was announced winner by Chair of Judges Sarah Inyal Lawal in a virtual event. The judges were full of praise for the other shortlisted authors who included fellow Nigerian author Okwudiri Job for The Masses on Ashes; the South African author Stephen Embleton for Bones and Runes; the Ghanaian author Solomon Kobina Aremu for The Rage of the Lambs; and the Zimbabwean author Ntando Gerald for A Reign of Terror.

Joining Sarah on the 2021 judging panel were the Canada-based Nigerian publisher, Bibi Ukonu, Dr. Pinkie Megkwe (Botswana), Barbara Adair (South Africa), Kennedy Ekezie-Joseph (Nigeria), Arun Jay (India) and Miko Yamanouchi (Japan).

Ani Kayode Somtochukwu is a biologist, writer, and Queer Liberation Activist who lives in Enugu, Nigeria. His work interrogates themes of queer identity, resistance and liberation and has appeared in The Enkare Review, The Rustin Times, Gertrude, Bakwa, and PlenitudeMagazine, among others, and has been shortlisted for the Erbacce poetry prize, the ALCS Tom-Gallon Trust Award, and the Toyin Falola Prize. He is the host of Rainbow Marxism, a YouTube channel that focuses on queer liberation in Africa, and the founder of the Queer Union for Economic and SocialTransformation(QUEST), a radical queer group organizing towards queer liberation in Nigeria. He was a finalist for the 2020 Prize for Difference andDiversity and was the recipient of the SOGIESC Rights Activist of the year award (2019) presented by the Initiative for Equal Rights(TIERs).

At the award ceremony, prize founder Onyeka Nwelue gave an address in which he detailed the objective of the award, and the legacy of James Currey, who he says “brought to African literature an exposure that accentuated the heterogeneity of African literature.” He cited Currey’s many contributions to the growth of African literature in the 20th century, including his launching of the celebrated Heinemann African Writers Series. He sees the James Currey prize as building on that legacy:

The pivot for the James Currey Prize for African Literature, that we instituted in 2020, for the first unpublished full-length work of fiction, intends to perpetuate the value of the African Writers Series and other such initiatives in contemporary African literature exposure, and distribution. The task at handis one that we hope to realize through our UK and US based, Abibiman Publishing: there are wider audiences to serve, more African voices, and voices concerned with Africa, to hear, more unpublished materials to hereafter spread, especially for, and within, the African continent. (Read the full address here.)

James Currey Prize for African Literature is indeed a welcome development in the African literary scene. Congratulations to Ani Kayode Somtochukwu!