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Brittle Paper Awards

August 1, 2017 was Brittle Paper‘s seventh anniversary. In celebration of the milestone, we launched the Brittle Paper Literary Awards, to recognize the finest, original pieces of African writing published online. The awards, which are annual, come in five categories: Fiction, Poetry, Creative Nonfiction, Essays/Think Pieces, and the Anniversary Award for works published on our blog. The winners in the fiction, poetry, creative nonfiction and essays/think pieces categories receive $200 each, while the winner of our Anniversary Award receives $300.

The selections were made based on quality, significance, and impact. In this, we considered only works that are available online for free. For the fiction, poetry, nonfiction and essays/think pieces categories, we considered works published between 1 January, 2016 and 31 July, 2017. For our Anniversary Award, our consideration was limited to between August 1, 2016 and July 31, 2017.

While we sought recommendations from personalities in the community, our editor Ainehi Edoro and our deputy editor Otosirieze Obi-Young mostly depended on their knowledge as curators of African literary production, knowledge from monitoring the African literary scene closely, and from observing how much impact these writings have had on individuals and online communities. Each of our picks reflects, in its own unique way, what is exciting about African literary culture in the digital/social media space. Some have been read and shared widely on social media. All have kindled and rekindled important conversations and debates, or have identified and built on areas still under-explored.

This is also a celebration not only of writers and relevant works, but also of blogs, magazines, journals, websites and their editors and publishers who are challenging the gatekeeping of old literary institutions by setting up accessible, open spaces where true literary diversity can thrive.

As we conceived of this award, we kept hearing echoes of Ikhide R. Ikheloa’s conviction that the book as a technology of form and aesthetics is dead. While our vision is nowhere near as apocalyptic as his, we do believe that digital and social media technology opens up new avenues for creative work. After all, the sobering truth is that a good number of the pieces in these shortlists would, in spite of their compelling beauty, never have seen the light of day without the openness and the spirit of innovation driving these online platforms. Our awards are an invitation to pay attention to the body of work within this new technological environment and to the ways in which digital and social media technology is changing the world of ideas—how we think, how we write, what we write.

The Brittle Paper Literary Awards is a gesture of gratitude to African writers who are inhabiting this new intellectual space with grace and imagination.





FOR: “Credo to Leave”

J.K. Anowe.

From a pool of ten poems that range from stylistic daringness to psychological acuity, we chose J.K. Anowe’s thematically deviant, Self-centric “Credo to Leave.” An interrogation of psychological make-up, delivered in a voice grounded in vulnerability and deep existential pain, “Credo to Leave” is an entry point to an emerging sub-tradition in the poetry of Nigeria’s new generation. It is a sub-tradition preoccupied with the visceral, personal, and psychological—internal void, suicidal tendencies, masturbation, sex—with digging into the Self. Pegged in the psyche, its introspection—the focus on speaking into oneself rather than speaking out to the world—is an outlet for a confessional generation not afraid to voice its internal struggles and flaws, to make art of it. Given the emotional and psychological state of its voice, the wording of “Credo to Leave,” the abrupt clarity of it, demonstrates psychological acuity, clinical depression unadorned. “Credo to Leave” is a revolt.

“Credo to Leave” is published by Expound, a magazine that is often a conduit for the development of new talent, but J.K. Anowe’s emergence began from Praxis magazine’s poetry chapbook series. We recognize and applaud here the priceless work that homegrown platforms put in to usher in new voices, particularly as these platforms are themselves run by new voices.



FOR: “Fugee”

Hawa Jande Golakai. Photo credit: Cassava Republic.

From a collection of eight creative nonfiction pieces that range from the explosive to the breathtakingly innovative, we chose Hawa Jande Golakai’s witty rebuttal to stereotypes, “Fugee.” An affecting interrogation of the Ebola crisis in Liberia, as well as of identity and the life of an artist-cum-clinical scientist, “Fugee” is delivered in a beguiling blend of humorous, quotable, often-lyrical sentences. Golakai documents one of the most precarious moments for the African continent with the seriousness it deserves but also the private, subjective dimension it requires.  The essay is the perfect modulation of distance and nearness, pain and humor, social commentary and the confessional. In many ways, “Fugee” exemplifies, in the deftness of its composition and the humaneness of its delivery, Ellah Allfrey’s notion of a “specifically African genre of creative nonfiction.”

“Fugee” is available to read for free on Granta, but it was originally published in Safe House, a groundbreaking nonfiction collection edited by Ellah Allfrey.



FOR: “Farang”

Megan Ross. Image from

From a box of ten short stories that range from the startling to the tragic, we chose Megan Ross’s aching romance, “Farang.” A study of intimacy and companionship set in Thailand and South Africa, a reflection on love and language, on foreknowledge and inevitability, “Farang” is wrought in visual prose so lyrical and controlled it moves like a spring. In “Farang,” we witness a dialogue among subject, style, and aesthetic experimentation, but one that is accessible in its complexity.

It is time, also, to salute the unrivaled work that Short Story Day Africa Prize is doing for short fiction on the continent. The prize’s top three entries for 2016, from the collective’s most recent anthology, Migrations, all made our shortlist. The collective has left its mark on the 2010s literary scene, and we are all the better for it.



FOR: “All Your Faves Are Problematic: A Brief History of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Stanning and the Trap of #BlackGirlMagic”

Sisonke Msimang.

From a class of essays and think pieces that situate the African writer’s work within global conversations, we chose Sisonke Msimang’s brilliant commentary on black women as figures of intellectual power, “All Your Faves Are Problematic: A Brief History of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Stanning and the Trap of #BlackGirlMagic.” Msimang explores, with the eye of a scholar and pop culture critic, the forces that contributed to Chimamanda Adichie’s dominance in the global imagination. The piece may be about Adichie in subject, but it is also driven by larger questions about how we produce knowledge in the age of social media. Drawing from a wide array of discursive fields— literature, feminism, politics, and fashion—Msimang offers a hard and searing look at how questions of race intersect with global intellectual iconography and social media culture.

“All Your Faves Are Problematic” is published by Africa is a Country, a remarkable intellectual project that has contributed immensely to changing the rules, practices, and conventions on how we produce knowledge about the continent.



FOR: “We’re Queer, We’re Here”

Chibuihe Obi.

From a mix of twelve conversation-driving fiction, poetry and nonfiction published on our site, we chose Chibuihe Obi’s brave, impactful “We’re Queer, We’re Here.” A query into the paucity of Nigerian literature about queerness and an expatiation of the immediate violence that so empowers homophobia, Obi’s work is all the more important given the unfortunate circumstance of his kidnapping—which only strengthens his work’s premise. Published, in a weird coincidence, on May 17, the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, the essay racked up 2,000 views in its first week, and more than 6,000 views in its first five weeks and, five months later, is inching towards 8,000 views, at a rate that might move it into our top-20 most-viewed posts within months.




“A Door Ajar,” Sibongile Fisher, Short Story Day Africa: Migrations (South Africa): A product of a riotous imagination, of a family—and community—of females for whom life is an tough mix of violence, love, betrayal, tradition, and an insatiable thirst for home. With sentence after sentence of resonating portrayal, its matriarchal culture is as remarkable for its violent normality as it is for its beautiful placement of femaleness.

“A Short History of Zaka the Zulu,” Petina Gappah, The New Yorker (Zimbabwe): A recognizable college moment—characterized by fear and expectation and competition and betrayal and the need to fit in, and eventually a suicide and a murder—centered on the narrator’s perception of the life of an insufferable Head Boy whose stoic outlook masks the pains in his betrayed private life. Driven by stacked emotions, suspicion and suspense, it is a depressing dissection of interpersonal relationships and homosexual loneliness. It was named among our “Best Pieces of 2016.”

“God’s Children Are Little Broken Things,” Arinze IfeakanduA Public Space (Nigeria): A glowing tale of love and friendship laid out in refreshingly wielded prose. We are taken, in the second person, through the hearts of the two male lovers in its brazenly honest evocation of the complexities of sexuality and family, through beautiful moments and into grief and loss and hope. It was named among our “Best Pieces of 2016” and shortlisted for this year’s Caine Prize.

“Ships in High Transit,” Binyavanga Wainaina, Expound (Kenya): Plot and characterization take the back seat in this celebration of language in roaming prose. The rumination here moves from erotic intellectualism to cultural references to satisfaction in its own possibilities. It was named in our monthly digest.

“Triptych: Texas Pool Party,” Namwali Serpell, Triple Canopy (Zambia): This fictionalized account of the 2015 McKinney, Texas pool party incident in which a police man tackles and restrains a 15-year-old black girl is a compendium of chatty, political lyricality.  Its use of animal and Greek-mythology metaphors is a delight.

“Farang,” Megan Ross, Short Story Day Africa: Migrations (South Africa): An aching romance, through intimacy and companionship and pregnancy, a reflection on love and language, foreknowledge and inevitability, set in Thailand and South Africa, in prose so lyrical and controlled it moves like a spring.

“Squad,” Linda Musita, Enkare Review (Kenya): Written entirely in convincing dialogue, this conversation between two female acquaintances about their other female acquaintances whose behaviour towards other women are pretentious is an examination of clique angst that briefly uses as metaphor the Kenyan artist Boniface Maina’s abstract expressionist, surrealist paintings. In its aggressively feminist tone, we are offered killer-phrases for fake feminists.

“Tea,” TJ Benson, Short Story Day Africa: Migrations (Nigeria): This tale of apprentice porn actors—a Tiv female and a German male—who murder their employers in Italy and, with only a rudimentary understanding of English, must find a way to communicate in order to avoid arrest is told with cinematic range. In plain prose that does not hide its movie influences, this multicultural mix in human-trafficking becomes a critique of the human need for, and adaptation to, communication.

“The Upright Revolution: Or Why Humans Walk Upright,” Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Jalada (Kenya): An allegory in the form of a competition between the hands and the legs of humans, the resolution of which leads to humans walking upright. Originally in Kikuyu, the story has been translated into 65 African, European and Asian languages.

“Beautiful,” Helon Habila, Adda (Nigeria): A powerful, graphic story of football and dreams in the slums of Ajegunle, Lagos and of the heartbreaking burden of hope.


“Pythagoras Theorem,” Nick Makoha, Adda (Uganda): This poem weighs communality and divisibility on mathematical terms—the Pythagoras theorem, algebra, denominators—with effective precision.

“application for asylum,” Safia Elhillo, Frontier Poetry (Sudan): A chilling relation of fear and loss to water laid out in intriguing questions and answers, its play with language an allure.

“Credo to Leave,” JK Anowe, Expound (Nigeria): Through lines of abrupt clarity, the voice’s no-fucks-given attitude and vulnerability in sexual pleasure draw upon deep existential pain, exposing a young suicidal mind teasing itself—or racing?—towards controlled implosion.

“Your Body Is War,” Mahtem Shiferraw, Hermeneutic Chaos Journal (Ethiopia / Eritrea): A comparison of self-inflicted bodily harm to war that beautifully draws their manifestation in love and death.

“A Series of Solitudes,” Fiston Mwanza Mujila, Enkare Review (DR Congo): A resonant use of water and animal metaphors to explain a body in dishevelment, in graphic language that nods to musical references.

“How to Paint a Girl,” Gbenga Adesina, The New York Times Magazine (Nigeria): Bearing pain in language that is beautiful and entire, its highlighting of details, in its brevity, demonstrates clarity in observation and empathy for suffering. It was named among our “Best Pieces of 2016.”

“Water,” Koleka Putuma, PEN South Africa (South Africa): The use of water to open a discussion of racial discrimination and race-related deaths, the control of history and language, the sanctity of black bodies, issues of sexuality and gender, the untruths of religion and a revolt against this status quo is a powerful example of how protest literature can drive overdue conversations especially when performed.

“I Ask My Brother Jonathan to Write about Oakland, and He Describes His Room,” Yalie Kamara, African Poetry Prize (Sierra Leone / USA): Channeling literature, polemic and painting, a poet writes around the racial realities of his city in a conscious effort to see to the preservation of his black body in a majority-white land: a clever work that speaks even louder now.

“Metamorphosis,” Romeo Oriogun, Brittle Paper (Nigeria): Exhuming the gay body as an arena of violence, this haunting interpretation of the wonder of attraction sings, in nakedly painful words, of the many ways in which homophobia breaks lives.

“The Colour of James Brown’s Scream,” Kayo Chingonyi, African Poetry Prize (Zambia / UK): A brief ode to music—complete with references to famed DJs, nightclubs, and dancers—that becomes a nod to losing oneself.


“Africa’s Future Has No Space for Stupid Black Men,” Pwaanguloongi Dauod, Granta(Nigeria): Seldom do so much heart and fierceness converge with such beauty as they do in this tear-jerking tribute to a dear friend in which the struggles of a confident, fearful community of LGBTIQ creatives is laid bare. Its calculated, crisp language compresses and releases anger in a build-up to an explosive climax, and all with an efficient balance of the political and the emotional. It was named among our “Best Pieces of 2016.”

“Working the City,” Bernard Matambo, Transition (Zimbabwe): Often cynical and mischievous, a lyrical, humourous recollection of trying, with a friend, to leave Zimbabwe for the USA, in generally tempered prose that occasionally yields gems. It was named among our “Best Pieces of 2016.”

“How It Ends,” Troy Onyango, The Magunga (Kenya): Brief and contemplative, a behavioral study of assured beauty, of a young mind craving to recollect his place in his own world but riddled by doubt.

“Out of Europe—Traveling with the Caine Prize in Germany,” Rotimi Babatunde, Caine Prize Blog (Nigeria): Offered in the second-person, in sharp, observant prose, this essay’s command of history and choice of references elevate it from an insightful travel piece—from Turkey to Germany to attend workshops—to a searing revisitation of historical ironies.

“Fugee,” Hawa Jande Golakai, Safe House/Granta (Liberia): An affecting interrogation of the Ebola crisis in Liberia, as well as of identity and the life of an artist-cum-clinical scientist, delivered in an embarrassment of witty, humorous sentences. It was named among our “Best Pieces of 2016.”  “Fugee” was originally published in the collection of creative nonfiction titled Safe House.

“Naijographia,” Bethuel Muthee, Enkare Review (Kenya): A psychogeographical reading of Nairobi that touches on science, political environmental policies, death, the human body, and the city’s history of patriarchal violence, in English and Swahili.

“Uniben Boy in Berlin,” Oris Aigbokhaevbolo, Brittle Paper (Nigeria): A trip to Berlin for a film festival yields brief contemplations of the peculiar characters of cities—Lagos, Lokoja, Ilorin, Paris—and books.

“Since Everything Was Suddening into a Hurricane,” Binyavanga Wainaina, Granta(Kenya): With its unconventional use of punctuation and syntax and capitalisation and paragraphing, a groundbreaking work. Its fragmented, heartbroken prose pushes it teasingly close to poetry.  Here, new words are created by mixing adjectives, blending nouns, transforming nouns into verbs, enough to generate a conversation on literary experimentation.


“Penpoints, Gunpoints, and Dreams: A History of Creative Writing Instruction in East Africa,” Billy Kahora, Chimurenga (Kenya): From Kampala to Ibadan to Nairobi, an important analysis of Ngugi’s beginnings and circumstances as a writer and the academia-driven development of the pioneering writers of modern African literature—Clark, Okigbo, Mphahlele, p’Bitek, Taban—down to the present-day attitude of writers to creative writing instructions.

“In the Shadow of Context,” Kola Tubosun, Enkare Review (Nigeria): Citing Ivor A. Richards’ 1920s experiment, in which he tried to prevent a work’s context from influencing judgement of its quality, this essay probes, with examples from all over the world of how authors’ names aid or limit their chances, whether the judging of literary prizes in Africa is being dictated not by the excellence of the works in contention but by the names of their authors.

“Poverty Porn: A New Prison for African Writers,” Richard Oduor Oduku, (Kenya): A solid, brainy outgrowth of the heated conversation around Fiston Mujila’s Tram 83, this essay decries the deficiencies of anthropological reading in an era of genre-bending literature, cautioning against analysing works based on specific political views.

“An Architect of Dreams: On Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Devil on the Cross,” Tope Folarin, Los Angeles Review of Books (Nigeria): Linking everything from Venus Williams and racism to matatu and barbershops and Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Devil on the Cross, this essay is case for the power of dreams and their ability to forge their own reality in the face of strong discouragement, and an analysis of the connection between Africa’s present reality and the dreams of conquest had by European imperialists.  

“When We Talk about Kintu,” Ellah Allfrey, Brittle Paper (Zimbabwe / UK): A gentle but firm protest, in our era of mansplaining, against the tendency of Western publishers to not let literature from black Africa speak for itself, following the inclusion of an introduction—by a white male—in the 2017 US edition of Jennifer Makumbi’s 2014 debut novel Kintu, and the billing accorded his name on the book’s cover. An important call for the need for homegrown promotion networks.

“Writes of Passage, an Urban Memoir: How a Pan-African Journal and American Glossies Put Bongani Madondo on the Write Path,” Bongani Madondo, The Johannesburg Review of Books (South Africa): An excitingly steeped tribute, supplemented by film, music and urban references, to the culturing power of TransitionRolling Stone and Vibe magazines on the intellectual culture of specific periods. A personal history of literary and political eclecticism and diversity.

“The Labours of the Months: Of Work and Its Refuseniks,” Rotimi Babatunde, Praxis (Nigeria): A work of intense intellectualism that traces the exploration of work in literature, and the intersection of both with play, from the medieval to the modern period, situating Amos Tutuola, Chinua Achebe, Hesiod, Aristotle, Dante, Charles Dickens, Ivan Goncharov, George Orwell, Joseph Brodsky and the illuminated manuscript gallery Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry in a robust, often-overlooked tradition. It serves as the introduction to the second Art Naija anthology, Work Naija: The Book of Vocations.

“All Your Faves Are Problematic: A Brief History of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Stanning, and #BlackGirlMagic,” Sisonke Msimang, Africa Is a Country (South Africa): An illuminating dissection of black female celebrity in the era of #BlackGirlMagic, this essay weighs Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s celebrity—following her criticized comments on the place of trans women in feminism—against a culture that does not hesitate to attack its favourites, capturing insights on the workings of modern pop culture conversations.


“Love Is Not Apolitical,” Andile Ndlovu, fiction (South Africa): A convincing portrait of a romantic relationship which dynamics are dictated by the political leanings of the lovers—and their circle of friends—in a South Africa riddled with problems of race and education.

“Because Your Body Took the Wrong Way Home,” Wale Owoade, poetry (Nigeria): In a breathless 435-word sentence, a disquieting tribute to Akinnifesi Olumide Olubunmi, the Nigerian gay man who died from wounds from a public beating in February 2016. It was named among our “Best Pieces of 2016.”

“Schoolyard Cannibal,” Nana Nkweti, prose-poetry (Cameroon): An engrossing parody of racist commentary and history, in schools and socialization circles, complete with animal references, depicting, even in its highlighting of glorious historical achievers, the far-reaching turmoil of a race.

“We’re Queer, We’re Here,” Chibuihe Obi, essay (Nigeria): A personal history of the scarcity of queer voices in Nigerian literature and the physical suppression and violence meted out to queer Nigerians, coming at a time when Nigerian writers have come under persecution for writing about queerness.

“The Weight of Silence,” Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, fiction (Nigeria): With slowly unraveling emotional power, this story written entirely in questions follows two friends—one the narrator, the other in coma—through a childhood of envious infatuation with a teacher they might have murdered, a memory of obsession and blame that torments them all through their lives.

“Gay Wars: The Battle of the Bitches (or The Tops and Bottoms of Being Out in Nigeria),” Rapum Kambili, essay (Nigeria): Grounded in wit and occasional humour, a grapple with the divisiveness of the gay community in Nigeria, from internalized homophobia to the lack of apology about their identity. It first appeared in the 14 anthology, We Are Flowers.

“You Sing of a Leaving,” JK Anowe, poetry (Nigeria): An affecting plea to a lover from a mind squirming in chronic depression rendered with irreducible power and economy.

“Not Guilty,” Abifatah Shafat, fiction (Somalia): A moving tale of murder, community and a mother’s undying love in which a Somali teenager finds himself in the unforgiving arms of the Minneapolis legal system.

“Nwangene,” Nzube Ifechukwu, creative nonfiction (Nigeria): Brief and memorable, a graphic, rugged-poetic description of a district in Onitsha, Nigeria. It first appeared in the Art Naija anthology, Enter Naija: The Book of Places.

“Kampala Love Spell (A Westerner’s Preparation),” A. Awosanya, poetry (Uganda/ Nigeria/ USA): Written in the form of a recipe for a love potion and reading like an incantation, a stranger confesses her love for a city she’s come to know as home.

“How to Buy a Soul,” Michael E. Umoh, fiction  (Nigeria): In an alternate, futuristic world, a young man is trapped in the quotidian affair of buying and selling souls.

“The Fear of Tomorrow,” Yejide Kilanko, fiction (Nigeria): A parody of Animal Farm in which the animals of Naija Farm must make an important decision that would affect them all.



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