The shortlist for the inaugural The Island Prize for a Debut Novel from Africa has been announced. The selected manuscripts are A Darkness With Her Name On It by Doreen Anyango (Uganda), Single Minded by Marina Auer (South Africa), Sand Roses by Hamza Koudri (Algeria), Glass Tower by Sarah Isaacs (South Africa), and Delightful Cage by Joyce Nwankwo (Nigeria). Read below for authors’ bios.
The prize, which was founded in 2022, recognizes new literary talents from Africa. It was set up in the spirit of honoring the trailblazing Booker-Longlisted novel An Island by the South African author Karen Jennings, herself a proof of the importance of literary honors in providing visibility for underrepresented writers.
The prize is co-administered by Jennings and her publishers Holland House Books (UK) and Karavan Press (South Africa). It awards a total of £1,000 split among a winner and two runner ups. The winning manuscripts will be considered for publication, and the authors will be introduced to an agent.
The shortlist of five manuscripts for the inaugural prize was culled from a longlist of 10 by a judging panel that includes Karen Jennings (South Africa), Hilda Twongyeirwe (Uganda) and Obinna Udenwe (Nigeria), who were reportedly “unanimous” in their selection. The shortlist is certainly diverse, featuring authors from Uganda, Nigeria, Algeria, and two from South Africa.
The top three winners will be announced in due course.
Congratulations to the writers!
Joyce Odera Nwankwo’s Delightful Cage is her debut novel. She developed a love for storytelling from her teens, where she would enthrall her classmates for hours by telling on-the-spot fictional stories. Her goal as a writer is to connect deeply with the reader by developing relatable characters. She currently works as an Administrative Assistant. She was born in Cameroon and she understands English and French. She is a lover of history, art, beaches, fresh fruits, boxing, and conversing with strangers.
Sarah Isaacs is a writer and visual storyteller based in Cape Town, South Africa. After graduating from a psychology degree at the University of Cape Town (UCT) in 2009, she shifted her professional focus to portrait and documentary photography, creating safe spaces for South African women to share their everyday struggles and stories. Boosted by the voices of the women she photographed, she was able to explore her own relationship to issues of identity, gender based violence and the impact of infertility on a woman’s sense of self. In 2018 she invited victims of GBV to be photographed as a way of sharing their stories of abuse, and ten women stepped forward. She turned the lessons she learnt from that portrait series into a 2019 TEDx talk, entitled “The Vulnerability-Victimhood Paradox”, which centered on survivor shame and its implications for the expression of vulnerability. Sarah was accepted into UCT’s Creative Writing Masters program in 2020, and completed her first novel, Glass Tower, at the end of 2021. She lives in the city centre with her husband and two cats, and finds joy in walking through town and watching strangers go about their day.
Doreen Anyango is an Ugandan fiction writer, scriptwriter and biotechnologist. She was born and raised in Kampala, Uganda. Her short fiction has appeared in several online journals. She has published short stories in print anthologies with FEMRITE, Writivism and Short Story Day Africa. A Darkness With Her Name On It is her debut novel.
Hamza Koudri has an MA in English Literature and Civilization and has been working in education and international development since 2008. Hamza is also a Director of Programs with World Learning, overseeing a portfolio of education and workforce development projects across Algeria. Over the years, Hamza has created and led courses and projects for youth and educators across the MENA region and Korea. During a year-long fellowship in the U.S. he also helped put in place a mentorship program for a social equity course at Penn State University and a teacher training certificate program for Indiana University. Hamza’s recreational passions are traveling, writing, swimming, and reading historical fiction. He has written several novels and short stories but has not been published yet.
My name is Marina Auer. I’m a doctor based in Durban, South Africa; mother to two children and minion to three cats. My medical work is theatre-based and varied – some days I help tug reluctant babies into the world, other days we section out brain tumours. For several years I trained in Brazilian ju jitsu. I’ve participated in one ‘cage fight’, which is a memory I’d rather erase, but one I call on to add authenticity to the action scenes I draft! A devoted reader across diverse genres, in 2018 I started to write fiction. Those first attempts will stay in a locked drawer (along with the trophy I received for that cage fight – second place out of two contenders…). My philosophy for writing fiction is as it is for medicine: sharing stories of integration, hope and healing. Single Minded was born out of the experiences of my internship. Apart from the murders, the medical incidents in the novel are real, rats and all.