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Caine Prize winner, Nneka goes to Georgetown for Power, Language conversation

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Power and Language with Lesley Nneka Arimah, winner of the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing

•  Prize Announces 2020 Judging Panel, New Sponsorship Deal

The Lannan Centre for Poetics and Social Practice will host Power and Language with Lesley Nneka Arimah, winner of the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing, on Tuesday, February 18, 2020, at 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm at Copley Hall, Copley Formal Lounge, Georgetown University.

Arimah is the author of Skinned, What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky (2017), her debut short story collection; and Light, winner of the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa. She was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2016, 2017 and 2019, the year she eventually won.

In April 2017, Riverhead Books and Tinder Press (UK) published her debut collection of short stories titled What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky. Farafina Books republished it in Nigeria, in November of the same year.

The book won the Kirkus Prize for Fiction, the Minnesota Book Award for Fiction and the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award. In January 2018, it was also shortlisted for the 9mobile Prize for Literature, which was won by Ayobami Adebayo for her much-honored debut novel, Stay with Me.

Born October 13, 1983, in London, England, Arimah has been described as ‘a skillful storyteller who can render entire relationships with just a few lines of dialogue’ and ‘a new voice with certain staying power’.

She grew up in both Nigeria and the U.K. and moved to the U.S. in her early teens. She is currently at work on a novel.

In her acceptance speech, Arimah emphasised that African writers should centre the African gaze. To her fellow shortlisted writers, she said: “Your stories have added to the profile of African literature,” adding, “the many voices that we need to illuminate who we are. When I think of what literature can do, and I think of the ways that literature has changed minds and opened imaginations, I want to say that we African writers must centre the African gaze. We must centre the Nigerian gaze, the Cameroonian gaze, the Ethiopian gaze, the Kenyan gaze. We need to be writing to and for each other, and we also need to play.”

The book centres ‘on female protagonists exposed to a cruel world that pushes them to take certain steps to fit in, or make them realize, they just might not fit in’, offering ‘a humanising portrait of both the Nigerian citizen and first-generation young female immigrant’, showcasing their flaws, their desires, their victories, and their attempts at carving out a place in a country whose customs and values diverge from that of their heritage.

Arimah holds a BA in English from Florida State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from Minnesota State University. Currently, Arimah is a 2019 United States Artist Fellow in Writing living in Las Vegas. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Granta, Harper’s, Per Contra, and other publications.

Meanwhile, the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing has announced its panel of judges for 2020 and a new sponsorship deal. The prize was launched in 2000 and is awarded annually 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.

Power and Language with Lesley Nneka Arimah, winner of the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing


In its 20 years existence, Nigeria has won the prize more than any country in Africa with six, Kenya follows with four and South Africa comes next, having won it thrice. Sudan and Zimbabwe are tied with two, while Uganda, Sierra Leone and Zambia have one each. The first winner of the Prize is Sudan’s Leila Aboulela in 2000.

This year’s Chair of Judges is director of the Africa Centre, Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp CBE. A prominent figure in the cultural sphere, Kenneth was made a CBE in recognition of his services to dance, which included working with the London Contemporary Dance Theatre. As a passionate champion of the arts, he brings a welcome diversity of experience to the judging panel.

Kenneth will be joined on the panel by Audrey Brown, a South African journalist with BBC Africa in London; Gabriel Gbadamosi, a poet, playwright and essayist who won the Tibor Jones Pageturner Prize in the Best International Novel category for Vauxhall, published in 2013; Kenyan journalist James Murua, whose prominent blog publishes news and reviews from the African literary scene; and Ebissé Wakjira-Rouw, a Dutch-Ethiopian editor currently working at the Council for Culture, where she advises the Dutch Parliament on arts, culture, and media.

Commenting on the 2020 panel, Ellah Wakatama, Chair of the AKO Caine Prize, said in a statement released by the prize: “We are honoured to announce such remarkable cultural figures as our 2020 AKO Caine Prize judges. I’m sure that, with his wealth of experience across art forms, Kenneth Tharp will make an excellent chair, and I wish all the judges great success in deciding our 2020 shortlist and, ultimately, in adjudicating this year’s winning story.”

The judging panel will meet to determine which entries will make the shortlist, with an announcement on their selection to be published in May 2020.

The prize, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2019, also recently announced a new partnership with the AKO Foundation, a London based charity that supports projects that ‘promote the arts, improve education or mitigate climate problems’.

As part of the agreement, the prize will be known as the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing and will receive a grant to cover its core costs. The foundation’s funding will enable the prize to continue supporting writers in Africa through literacy workshops, the publication of a yearly anthology and the award.

Increasingly, the foundation aims to help start-up and be the catalyst for, new charitable projects which otherwise could not have been realised. It also takes pride in having a very lean structure so that it can make fast decisions, proving an invaluable ally for the Prize.

Commenting upon his support for the prize, Nicolai Tangen, founder of the AKO Foundation, said: “We are delighted and proud to sponsor the AKO Caine Prize, and look forward to seeing the literary landscape flourish and prosper with further excellent contributions from African authors. In supporting the Prize we are making clear our desire to encourage and celebrate the exceptional work of African writers.”

The AKO Caine Prize for African Writing expressed its gratitude to the foundation for its ‘invaluable support’, and to all other dedicated supporters of the Prize for their commitment to celebrating outstanding African writing.

Power and Language with Lesley Nneka Arimah, winner of the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing


Wakatama said: “Counting the AKO Foundation as our ally not only promises more stability for the Prize but allows us to plan for the future with additional confidence and ambition. We are so grateful to the Foundation, as well as to all our existing donors, who have provided generous and consistent support throughout the years, and we look forward to championing literature from Africa and her diaspora in this new chapter for the Prize.”

Named after the late Sir Michael Caine, former Chairman of Booker plc and Chairman of the Booker Prize management committee for nearly 25 years, the Prize is awarded for a short story by an African writer published in English (indicative length 3,000 to 10,000 words) — An African writer is taken to mean someone who was born in Africa, or who is a national of an African country, or who has a parent who is African by birth or nationality.

Works translated into English from other languages are not excluded, provided they have been published in translation, and should such a work win, a proportion of the prize would be awarded to the translator.

The African winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Wole Soyinka and JM Coetzee, are Patrons of the Caine Prize. Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne is President of the Council, Ben Okri OBE is Vice President, Ellah Wakatama OBE is the Chair and Dele Fatunla is the administrator.

The AKO Caine Prize anthology comprises the five shortlisted stories alongside stories written at the AKO Caine Prize workshop, and is published each year by New Internationalist (UK), Interlink Publishing (USA), Jacana Media (South Africa), Lantern Books (Nigeria), Kwani? (Kenya), Sub-Saharan Publishers (Ghana), FEMRITE (Uganda), ‘amaBooks (Zimbabwe), Mkuki na Nyota (Tanzania), Redsea Cultural Foundation (Somaliland, Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, and UAE), Gadsden Publishers (Zambia) and Huza Press (Rwanda). Books are available from the publishers or from the Africa Book Centre, African Books Collective or Amazon.

The AKO Foundation, Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, Miles Morland Foundation, Carnegie Corporation, Booker Prize Foundation, Sigrid Rausing Trust, Royal Over-Seas League, and John and Judy Niepold principally support the AKO Caine Prize. Other funders and partners include the British Council, Georgetown University (USA), Lannan Centre for Poetics and Social Practice, van Agtmael Family Charitable Fund, Rupert and Clare McCammon, Adam and Victoria Freudenheim, Arindam Bhattacherjee, Phillip Ihenacho, and other generous donors.


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