South African author Karen Jennings launches The Island Prize, named after and in honor of her Booker-longlisted novel An Island.
The Prize is co-administered with Holland House Books and Karavan Press, the British and South African publishers of the novel. It was set up with the objective of giving debut African novelists a chance to showcase their work to a wider audience, as well as attract agents and publishers to their work.
The initiative was was borne out of Jennings’ own experience while trying to publish An Island. After suffering a string of rejections for reasons ranging from the perceived difficulties of selling the book to discomforts with its subject matter, the book was picked up by two small presses in the U.K. and South Africa willing to take a chance on her. The novel received a comparatively poor reception upon publication (with just 500 initial print copies) until it was longlisted for the coveted 2021 Booker Prize, leading to an escalation in its status, as well as a dramatic increase in sales, multiple foreign translation rights sold, and publication rights acquired in dozens of countries including, most recently, Nigeria.
The Prize will be judged by Karen Jennings, Hilda Twongyeirwe and Obinna Udenwe. It is open to African writers (aged 18 or over) based anywhere in the world, who have completed a full-length novel manuscript and are not under contract with an agent or publisher, nor have previously published a novel. The writers are invited to send a one-page summary and the first 3 chapters (or 10,000 words) of a completed manuscript. Five to ten authors will be asked subsequently to submit the full ones and will be provided with optional feedback. From the shortlist, the winning three entries will be chosen, with prize money of £500 for first, £300 for second and £200 for third place. The winning three manuscripts will all be considered for publication by Holland House and Karavan Press, and be introduced to an agent. More details here.
It is remarkable that Jennings is choosing to give back to the continent in this way, and we fully stand by this initiative.