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‘Competition brings out the best in people’

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WHY did Etisalat choose Literature to reward people, when there are other areas like fashion, sports and others?

Africa has a rich history in the Arts and has produced great writers such as Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Ben Okri, Ayi Kwei Armah and recent writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, NoViolet Bulawayo and many more. It is thus logical that as part of our social responsibility policy, we chose to support the literary space.

At Etisalat, we are not just about rewarding already existing talents and achievements, we also believe in discovering and building new talent, which is the aim of this Pan-African literary prize. The Etisalat Prize for Literature serves as a platform for the discovery of new creative writing talents out of the African continent and is the first prize with the concept of promoting the growing publishing industry in Africa.

By recognizing and celebrating writers and other members of the literary community across Africa, Etisalat brings the needed awareness and acclaim to the art of Fiction writing while also applauding and rewarding the efforts of those who have ventured into this genre in recent times. This prize which we launched in 2013 has showcased exceptional writers such as NoViolet Bulawayo, winner of the 1st edition, Songeziwe Mahlangu, who is the winner of the 2014 edition announced last week, and of course Yewande Omotosho, Karen Jennings, Chinelo Okparanta and Nadia Davids who were all shortlisted for the prize.

What criteria were used in selecting the panel of judges for the competition?

The members of the judging panel engaged for the 2nd edition of this prize are seasoned and exceptional writers and literary scholars from various African countries with numerous publications and degrees to their credit.

Sarah Ladipo Manyika, who chaired the judges is a literature teacher at the San Francisco State University, and comes with a repertoire of published essays, academic papers, book reviews and short stories. An alumnus of the University of Birmingham and Bordeaux, she completed her doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley. She was one of the inaugural Judges for Etisalat Prize for Literature 2013. Jamal Mahjoub on the other hand is an award-winning writer who has published seven novels under his own name while Tsitsi Dangarembga a Zimbabwean is the writer of the novel, ‘Nervous Conditions’ which created a new era of African female writing.

What will you say distinguished the winner from the other shortlisted writers?

The judges released a strong long list from the entries received in 2014, which led to the announcement of this year’s competitive shortlist.

On a personal note, Songeziwe Mahlangu’s novel brings an alternative experience of Cape Town to life; one that is far removed from both the gloss of tourism brochures and the familiar poverty of the Cape Flats.

What is your take on Literature in the African spectrum?

Africa literature has continued to grow over time in a lot of ways. Reading works of great writers from the likes of Wole Soyinka and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, gives me confidence that if we continue with this rate of growth and depth that the present day African books currently portray, the future generation will have a wealth of knowledge to fall back on.

The adaption of some African books such as Chimamanda’s Half of a Yellow Sun, as world class movies interpreted by some of the world’s best actors, also gives me continuous hope and belief that African history and stories will never be continue to be told and grow to even wider audiences. In Etisalat, we believe that someday winners of the Prize for Literature will also have their literary books recreated into blockbuster movies.

What’s your take on the level of recognition that African writers have received in recent times?

The level of recognition received by African writers in recent times is quite commendable and refreshing. With awards such as the Caine Prize, Golden Baobab Prizes, ADA Awards, Burt Award for African Literature and the Etisalat Prize for Literature, writers are starting to gain a voice that is recognized and appreciated across the world. An American author, Jackson Brown Jr. says “Don’t forget a person’s greatest emotional need is to feel appreciated,” I believe that with the level of global recognition given to African writers in recent times, the African literary sphere will experience the rise of greater writers and stronger literary works.

In the last two editions, winners have emerged from other African nations. Is this an indication that Nigerian writers are not as witty and impressive with their literary works?

At Etisalat, we support healthy competition. Competition brings out the best in people. Literature thrives in Africa because it is free and competitive and no one person dominates the literary space. So this prize is not about the country of origin or the gender of the winners, this is about quality, which is what the Etisalat brand is known for.

Finally, who is your greatest influence in the African literary sphere?

I have a long list of African writers whose works I admire. In general I appreciate and celebrate every African writer that has in one way or the other told their story to the world. I have had the privilege of meeting some of Africa’s literary icons like Noble Laureate Wole Soyinka and Ama Ata Aidoo.



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