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Nigerian-British author wins AKO Caine prize for ‘stunning’ short story Grace Jones

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Nigerian-British author Irenosen Okojie has won the 2020 AKO Caine prize for African writing.

Okojie won the £10,000 award on Monday for her short story Grace Jones.

The AKO Caine Prize for African Writing is a literature prize awarded to an African writer of a short story published in English.

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The prize was launched in 2000 to encourage and highlight the richness and diversity of African writing by bringing it to a wider audience internationally.

“Beyond delighted & overwhelmed that my story Grace Jones has won the 2020 @CainePrize Mind-blowing,” Okojie said on Twitter on Monday.

“Massive thanks to the judges & the prize for this honour.”

Grace Jones tells the story of Sidra, a youthful Martinican woman in London, who is wracked with guilt after her whole family dies in a fire that destroys their flat.

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In later life, she finds a sense of release working as a celebrity impersonator.

“Sidra is “hiding under” this mask of Jamaican singer, model, and actress Grace Jones,” Okojie said.

“But under the character [she] herself is committing dreadful acts.”

This leads to a deliberate blurring between the protagonist and her assumed identity.

Judges for the prize called it “a radical story that plays with logic, time and place”, and praised it as “risky, dazzling, imaginative and bold”.

Okojie said her win has given her “extra confidence” as a black, female experimental writer. She said this made her feel like she is “operating on the fringes.”

Grace Jones was published in 2019 in Okojie’s book Nudibranch and is her second short story collection and her third book, following her debut novel Butterfly Fish and her first collection Speak Gigantular.

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