Sudanaese author Reem Gaafar has won the 2023 Island Prize for her manuscript A Mouth Full of Salt.

Administered by South African author Karen Jennings, the Island prize was set up to provide new writers in the continent with resources and support. The winner receives a cash award of £500, while the runners-up receive £300 and £200 respectively.

Gaafar’s manuscript is a story that seems like fantasy at first glance but is actually realist with dark themes of social stigma against outsiders and gender and racial hierarchies. When a strange woman appears in a Sudanese village and tragic events take place, the villagers begin to blame the woman and see her as a witch.

The judges Karen Jennings, Rachel Edwards, and Hamza Koudri remarked in a press statement, “A Mouth Full of Salt is stylistically simple, insightful, and elegant; sharing truths like all best fiction, it is compellinghas a profound sense of placeand shows brilliance in the ways the destinies weave together.”

Read the full synopsis below:

A small village in the North of Sudan wakes up one morning in the late 70s to the news of a drowned boy. While searching for him a strange woman appears, and with her appearance a series of strange and tragic events occur: animals die of a mysterious illness, the date tree fields catch fire and burn to the ground, and a young girl decides she is leaving the village to go to medical school in the capital Khartoum – something unheard of in that area and that time. While these events all have perfectly logical explanations, the villagers believe they are a work of evil and their thoughts and anger turn to this woman who they believe is a witch.

The three women in this story are trapped in a social system with a very well-defined gender and racial hierarchy, but which is facing disruption by changing times. In their obstinate belief in their societal norms, the villagers blame this change on an obscure evil that can only be produced by an outsider, rather than confront their own bigotry.

The runners-up for the 2023 Island Prize are previously shortlisted writers are Andile Mashandu Cele (South Africa) and Jesudubami Jemima Aganaba (Nigeria).

Congrats to Gaafar on the well-deserved win!