Profile: The 2018 9mobile Prize for Literature Shortlist
The shortlist for the 2018 9mobile Prize for Literature has since been announced and it features two Nigerians and a South African. In this article, we profile the shortlisted books.
Formerly known as the Etisalat Prize for Literature, the 9mobile Prize for Literature is the first Pan-African literary prize that celebrates debut African writers of published fiction. It is open solely to writers from African countries. Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo won the inaugural edition of the prize in 2013 with We Need New Names, South African novelist Songeziwe Mahlangu with Penumbra in 2014, Fiston Mwanza Mujila from the Democratic Republic of Congo emerged winner with Tram 83 in 2015 and Nigeria’s Jowhor Ile received the prize for his first book And After Many Days in 2017.
2018 9mobile Prize for Literature shortlist
This shortlist announcement came after the unveiling of the longlist in December 2017, which featured nine books chosen by the judges; Nigerian academic and poet; Professor Harry Garuba (Chair); Ugandan writer; Doreen Baingana and South African writer; Siphiwo Mahala. The shortlisted books are:
What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah (United Kingdom/Nigeria, Kachifo Limited)
The 12 stories that make up What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky are set in Nigeria and the United States and sometimes both countries. Lesley Nneka Arimah’s focus is on the lives of girls and women. While her perspective is often bleak, the collection is varied. She shows broad range – drawing on realism, fantasy, speculative myth and fable. For example, in the title story, Nneoma, a grief worker in a post-apocalyptic future, possesses the power to draw grief and sadness out of people “like poison from a wound”, as described in the novel. In Second Chances, a young woman’s mother returns from the dead, opening up the possibility of a longed-for reconciliation and forgiveness. Also, in Who Will Greet You at Home, a childless woman working in a hair salon makes herself a baby out of human hair. While the scenarios that Arimah depicts are sometimes fantastical, they are always rooted in human need and longing. In some cases, her use of narrative or rhetorical devices projects a degree of self-consciousness to the page, as well as brings energy, momentum and humour. Some stories hold readers at a distance; others address them directly; some pull them close into the physical and emotional realms of the characters – and some of the stories do all of these at once. Overall, the collection offers a rare combination of daring and nuance.
Stay with Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ (Nigeria, Canongate Books)
Rarely have the social pressures to produce children been conveyed with such intensity as in Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s debut novel Stay with Me. Yejide and Akin are an intelligent, beautiful and prosperous couple living in Nigeria in 1985. It seems like they are set for a promising future, but no matter how hard the couple try, they cannot conceive a child. The narrative alternates between the points of view of Yejide and Akin. They convey the multi-faceted strains on their relationship as their family and society demand that they produce children. They go to extreme measures to do so and there are multiple shocking plot twists along the way. Amidst the personal crisis that this couple experience, the political leadership of the country is in a precarious state forcing them to make choices which they wouldn’t in more stable circumstances. This well-paced drama skillfully conveys the different dilemmas faced by women and men when the importance of conceiving children is placed above all else. While the challenges for a woman in this society are manifold, the author equally shows the enormous expectations and problems faced by men. Adébáyọ̀ also dramatically shows the depths a man will sink to in order to conceal his vulnerability. Family and societal demand for a child compels Akin to plot against and lie to his wife. Gradually the levels of deception and self-deception are revealed over the course of the story.
Asylum by Marcus Low (South Africa, Picador Africa)
Marcus Low’s debut novel, Asylum, follows through a series of eloquent and detailed journal entries, about the plight of James Barry. Barry has been diagnosed with a fatal lung disease – likely tuberculosis – and finds himself incarcerated in a treatment facility or modern day sanatorium, in the middle of the Karoo. His days drag on at a snail’s pace as he gazes out of the window at the dry bones of the earth, watching nothing happen, and writing regularly in his notebooks. He has made some friends and as inmates are want to do, they begin planning their escape. The novel traces Barry’s internal struggles as well as the planning and execution of their proposed escape. Composed of notebook fragments and interjected with editor’s notes, written from what is ostensibly the point of view of whoever discovered the notebooks, the novel has an intensely personal feel. Barry is a sensitive character, with a painful yet mysteriously unsubstantiated past. His voice reads as hurt rather than angry, and as resigned rather than determined. The notebooks function as both a solace for him, and as a way of leaving a legacy – one which is, at times, deliberately skewed. The choice of setting in the Karoo works well for this genre as the vast expanse of the landscape, as well as its dry, dusty harshness, create an atmosphere that lends itself to a story of loneliness, longing and resignation.
The winner of the 9mobile Prize will receive £15,000, an engraved Montblanc Meisterstück pen, and a 9mobile-sponsored fellowship at the University of East Anglia, where he/she will be mentored by renowned literature teacher Professor Giles Foden, author of The Last King of Scotland. All three finalists will also have copies of their books purchased by 9mobile for distribution to schools, libraries and book clubs across Africa, in fulfillment of the company’s goals to make books available across the continent, and develop the publishing industry.
April 04, 2019
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