The 2023 Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction shortlist is out and Zimbabwean author Yvette Lisa Ndlovu’s debut short story collection Drinking from Graveyard Wells is on it.
The Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction is an annual $25,000 cash prize given to a writer for a single work of imaginative fiction. Theo Downes-Le Guin, the author’s son and literary executor, founded the Prize in 2022 to honor his mother’s work and to provide opportunities and shine a light on newer authors of imaginative fiction.
This award is intended to recognize those writers Ursula spoke of in her 2014 National Book Awards speech— “realists of a larger reality, who can imagine real grounds for hope and see alternatives to how we live now.” Last year, the prize was awarded to Kenyan novelist Khadija Abdalla Bajaber’s The House of Rust.
Drawing on her own experiences as a Zimbabwean living under the Mugabe dictatorship, Ndlovu’s collection assembles poignant stories that center the voices of African women charting their own Black history. From surreal to fantastical, each narrative engages with southern African mythology and transports readers into the lives of African women who have fought to be seen. Some of her stories include:
An avenging spirit takes on the patriarchy from beyond the grave. An immigrant woman undergoes a naturalization ceremony in an imagined American state that demands that immigrants pay a toll of the thing they love the most. A first-generation Zimbabwean-American woman haunted by generational trauma is willing to pay the ultimate price to take her pain away—giving up her memories. A neighborhood gossip wakes up to find that houses are mysteriously vanishing in the night. A shapeshifting freedom fighter leaves a legacy of resistance to her granddaughter.
Ndlovu calls herself a Zimbabwean sarungano (storyteller). She earned her BA at Cornell University and is pursuing her MFA at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She won the 2017 Cornell University George Harmon Coxe Award for Poetry, the 2020 fiction prize of Columbia Journal’s Womxn History Month Special Issue, and the 2021 Black Warrior Review Fiction Contest.
The recipient of this year’s prize will be chosen by authors William Alexander, Alexander Chee, Karen Joy Fowler, Tochi Onyebuchi, and Shruti Swamy.
Congrats to Ndlovu on making it to the shortlist!