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After Betty Trask, Irenosen grabs the Caine

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Okojie

Nigeria’s Irenosen Okojie on Monday, July 27, was named the 2020 AKO Caine Prize winner. She is the seventh Nigerian to win the prize, which was inaugurated in 2000. In the past 21 years, Nigeria has won a third of the prize with Kenya coming second at four.

The Caine Prize is awarded yearly to an African writer of a short story published in English. The winner receives £10,000 prize money and each shortlisted writer also receives £500.

The previous winners are, Sudanese Leila Aboulela (2000), Nigerian Helon Habila (2001), Kenyan Binyavanga Wainaina (2002), Kenyan Yvonne Owuor (2003), Zimbabwean Brian Chikwava (2004), Nigerian Segun Afolabi (2005), South African Mary Watson (2006), Ugandan Monica Arac de Nyeko (2007), South African Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008) and Nigerian EC Osondu (2009).

Others include Sierra Leonean Olufemi Terry (2010), Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo (2011), Nigerian Rotimi Babatunde (2012), Nigerian Tope Folarin (2013), Kenyan Okwiri Oduor (2014), Zambian Namwali Serpell (2015), South African Lidudumalingani (2016), Sudanese writer, Bushra al-Fadil (2017), Kenyan Makena Onjerika (2018) and Nigerian Lesley Nneka Arimah (2019).

There were two other Nigerians on the shortlist — Chikodili Emelumadu for What to do when your child brings home a Mami Wata and Jowhor for Fisherman’s Stew.

The prize received entries from 28 countries this year, including Angola/Cabinda, Botswana, Cameroun, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Malawi, Mauritius, Morocco, Nigeria, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, The Gambia, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Okojie had tweeted afterwards that she was “delighted and overwhelmed” being named the winner.

Speaking after, she said, “it’s not something that I expected at all, because I always thought my writing was a little bit too weird for something like the Caine Prize.

“But I think that this is wonderful because it means that my work gets introduced to an African audience, as well as an international audience. I think African countries can know a bit more about my work, because I don’t think that that’s happened so much for me. Obviously, I’ve been published here and my books have been distributed in the US but not really in Africa. So, this is wonderful, this is a great acknowledgement, and I’m chuffed to bits.”

Announcing the award, chair of judges, Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp, said: “Grace Jones is a radical story that plays with logic, time and place. It defies convention as it unfolds a narrative that is both multilayered and multidimensional. It is risky, dazzling, imaginative and bold. It is intense and full of stunning prose. It is also a story that reflects African consciousness in the way it so seamlessly shifts dimensions, and it is a story that demonstrates extraordinary imagination. Most of all it is world-class writing, by an African writer.”

Her first novel, Butterfly Fish, won a Betty Trask Award in 2016. She was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2018.

Born in Nigeria, she was eight when her family moved to Britain. She attended Gresham’s Boarding School in Holt, Norfolk, before going on to St Angela’s Convent School in east London and then to Stamford Boarding School for girls.

Okojie returned to London to complete her education and then attended London Metropolitan University, where she studied Communications and Visual Culture.

Okojie is an Arts Project Manager and curator based in London.

Her writing has been published in The New York Times, The Observer, The Guardian, the BBC and the Huffington Post, and she is a contributor to the 2019 anthology, New Daughters of Africa, edited by Margaret Busby.

She has received nominations for a number of awards and she has been a judge for other literary competitions. Her 2016 collection of short stories, Speak Gigantular, was shortlisted for the 2016 inaugural Jhalak Prize as well as the 2017 Edge Hill Short Story Prize. Her story, Animal Parts, was nominated for a 2016 Shirley Jackson Award, and her short story, Synsepalum, was broadcast on BBC Radio 4 to celebrate the BBC National Short Story Award.


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