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Winner of the Etisalat Prize for Literature 2016

The first ever pan-African prize celebrating upcoming African writers of published fiction books is the Etisalat Prize for Literature created in 2013. The platform in recent times has been instrumental in discovering and sharing the works of promising African literary talents and promoting the publishing industry, supporting the literacy movement by donating copies of the shortlisted books to schools, book clubs and libraries across the continent.

The prize employs the attention of renowned literary figures through their rotating judges and fixed patrons. This year amongst the judges were Helon Habila, Edwige-Renee Dro and Elinor Sisulu. Patrons remained Ama Ata Aidoo, Dele Olojede, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, OBE, Margaret Busby, OBE, Sarah Ladipo Manyika and Zakes Mda.

Contending for the 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature were three unique and talented writers, Jowhor Ile, Jacqui L’Ange and Julie Iromuanya. Out of the three, Ile won the cash prize of £15,000 in addition to a fellowship at the University of East Anglia for his book And After Many Days. Past winners of the prize include Fiston Mwanza Mujila, Songeziwe Mahlangu and NoViolet Bulawayo.

 

 

 

 

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Jowhor Ile

Winner of the Etisalat Prize for Literature for his debut novel And After Many Days, Ile began writing at a very young age and admits to being compelled by the need to write, starting his journey as a writer from the young age of eight and writing serious short stories at the age of eleven. Although he studied accounting in the university and went on to do a Masters in management, literature has always been his first love. He worked on and off in the consulting and media industry which was when he wrote the novel.  For him, being shortlisted was a remarkable achievement and describes winning as “icing on the cake.”

 

What influences your creative process as a writer?

Mostly reading, my writing comes much from reading widely and listening to stories and also just paying attention to the world. Generally, people inspire me, a wide range of people. I see people sometimes and I start imagining lives that they might have, that they don’t even have. I think much of writing can be informed by just paying attention. The stories come from you and they can be influenced and inspired by the things outside of you.

 

What is your writing process like?

For my process, I’d like to have a computer or pen and paper always helps. Also to find a quiet place, when I can’t find a quiet place I still try to write, sometimes I write while travelling, I write something down and later go back to it.  

 

What was the inspiration for your novel?

I wrote this book for the same reason I write: I am moved to do it. I have no other explanation for it. It’s what I love doing. It is difficult, it is challenging, but it is also a source of great joy when it is going well. I feel fortunate to be making my living from it.

 

Do you think the Etisalat Prize is helping to advance literature in Africa?

Yes! It is a great thing to support literature because writing is a difficult process and it takes a lot of time and with Etisalat honouring literature, its heart warming and I can see that it will be some kind of motivation for people. It is always a good thing to support writing, to support the art because it is always a good thing to have writers in the society and writers need support. We are grateful to Etisalat for this.

 

What do you hope for your book to impact on the African literary society and society at large?

I want reading pleasure, that is a fundamental thing. For people to read it and have fun with it. If it is possible to escape while reading the book, it is dark material but I think it offers some pleasure as well. Maybe it can show something about the lives of other people.

 

How did writing your book away from Nigeria influence the plot of your novel?

I believe it is actually easier to write about a place when you are away from it or when it is in the past. It is more difficult to write about things that are happening now. You see better when something is slightly far away, so being far away helped me while writing this. It also helps when you’re homesick, you remember the things that are beautiful about it and the things you didn’t like about it. You just have distance and distance is always good with writing.

 

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Jacqui L’Ange

L’Ange is the author of The Seed Thief and has spent over a decade as a books and film editor for a number of magazines as well as writing and editing films and television dramas for the national broadcasting stations. The Cape Town writer has written several short stories and is currently working on another novel.

 

What influences your creative process as a writer?

The need to write. I get very grumpy if I don’t write. I find out that when I’m writing regularly it’s like you are carrying a friend with you.

 

What is your writing process like?

I like a quiet space. I have an office, it’s a little room in my garden and it looks out on the greenery. I do like the quiet but I am realising as time goes on and you get busy, books want to be written and sometimes you just have to find the space anywhere. I carry a notebook with me and sometimes I write notes on my phone.  I get a lot of ideas when I’m driving, then I speak using a voice recorder. When I come to sit on my computer I collate all those things.  

 

What was the inspiration for your book?

The inspiration for The Seed Thief was me wanting to explore the connection between Africa and Brazil more. When I was in Brazil, I found out that Salvador, Bahia was such an intensely African place and I just loved the vibrancy of it. I was living in South Africa at the time and I had lived in Brazil as a child and I was just so excited by this connection, I wanted to explore and play with it and turn it into a novel.

 

Do you think the Etisalat Prize is helping to advance literature in Africa?

I think the Etisalat prize is a wonderful endeavour, it is encouraging young and new writers to step up. Its giving them an incentive. It’s celebrating and taking African stories throughout the continent and to the world. There has never been a more exciting time in African literature like right now. Africans are writing their stories, finding their voices and speaking up for themselves.

 

What impact do you hope for your book tohave on the African literary community and society at large?

Like I said before, I want to explore that connection between Africa and Brazil, so I hope it will bring people together in terms of cross culture and find out that we all share certain stories and we all love the story and I am hoping it will just encourage people to read more and write their own books.

 

 

 

Julie Iromuanya

 

Iromuanya is the author of Mr and Mrs Doctor and an assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Arizona. The award-winning teacher was also a Presidential Fellow at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Her debut novel which she admits to taking 15 years to write has put her on the lists of many international literary awards.

 

What influenced your creative process for this book?

It started out as a character sketch in a writing workshop, so I started to think of interesting characters that I had met and I created a composite characater and that person was the one that evolved over time to become Job. Writing the book took a very long time, I didn’t know that I was writing a book. It wasn’t until eight or nine years in that I realised that I had a novel. Overall it probably took about fifteen years.

 

What’s the first book that moved you?

It was Cousins by Virginia Hamilton and it’s about two cousins and they don’t like each other very much and there’s a point in the novel where one of the character saves the other’s life. This was a children’s book and I just remember being so affected by that.

 

What was the inspiration for your book?

My parents emigrated to the US to go to university and at that time there were lot of Nigerians around, so we had lots of friends and family. What I noticed that was interesting about them was that many of them had lived in America for a long time but they felt very deeply and authentically Nigerian, so the idea of becoming American was something they couldn’t fathom. I was interested in what kind of situations test that. The novel is about home, displacement, migration and trying to figure out how to situate yourselves in different worlds.

 

How did you hear about the Etisalat Prize for Literature

I think it was in the year when NoViolet was the winner because I was really interested in reading the book.  That’s how I found out about Etisalat and the mission of supporting literacy and literary culture throughout Africa and I just admired that so much.

 

How does it feel to be recognised in your home country, considering you grew up in America?

I always say I’m Nigerian and American, I don’t choose. This is homecoming for me. Home is where your roots are, where you have people who love you. This is where the generations past have been, elders have been here, people before them and I feel so connected to them. It’s a great honour to be honoured in this way.

 

Creative Team

Creative Direction: Chidera Muoka

Photography: Niyi Okeowo

Makeup: Jumoke Tychus for Eyesome Beauty

 

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