The Mozambican author Paulina Chiziane, the first woman to publish a novel in her country, has been awarded the 2021 Camões Award for Portuguese literature. She is the first African woman to earn this honor and the third Mozambican author, following José Craveirinha and Mia Couto.
Named after the Portuguese poet Luís Vaz de Camões, the prize is awarded annually for an outstanding body of work by an author writing in the Portuguese language. At €100,000, it is among the richest literary prizes in the world.
Born in the southern province of Gaza, Mozambique, Paulina Chiziane earned a degree at Eduardo Mondlane University. Her first novel Balada do Amor ao Vento was published in 1990, making her the first woman in Mozambique to do so. Her body of work has been defined as “political and feminist” and have been known to interrogate the concepts of gender and women’s rights. Her novel The First Wife: A Tale of Polygamy was published in 2016 by Archipelago books and is available to readers who are curious about her writing. It is a humorous and searing indictment of polygamy as a cultural system set up to stifle women.
Chiziane dedicated the award to fellow Mozambicans. She describes her written stories as “our collective memory,” so a win for her was a win for all. She also expressed delight at having being recognized by a prestigious prize, coming from a humble background like hers:
I come from nowhere. I am that person who learnt to read and write, went to school… He had that luck, but he was also lucky enough to walk around the country and discover the wonders that this country has. So, I’m not exactly that person that you can say ‘She came from a social stratum X, so noble’. No, I came from the ground! So, a recognition for someone who came from nowhere, no doubt, is a reason for inspiration for another generation.
Huge congratulations to Paulina Chiziane! Her win, coming after Abdulrazak Gurnah’s Nobel Prize in Literature, is indeed gratifying.