Literature

2020 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing awarded to Irenosen Okojie

Nigerian-British writer Irenosen Okojie has been awarded the 2020 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story ‘Grace Jones’, from Nudibranch, published by Dialogue Books (2019).

The Chair of the AKO Caine Prize judging panel, director of The Africa Centre, Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp CBE, announced the winner of the £10,000 prize in a film released on Monday 27 July.

This year in light of the coronavirus pandemic and continuing government restrictions, the AKO Caine Prize commissioned British-Nigerian filmmaker Joseph A. Adesunloye to direct and produce a documentary film to celebrate the shortlist and announce the winner.

‘Grace Jones’ tells the story of Sidra, a woman whose life is consumed with guilt. In a devastating tragedy, thirteen-year-old Sidra loses her entire family to a fire that destroys their flat. Years later, Sidra finds herself working as an impersonator of the famous Jamaican singer, model and actress Grace Jones. In this heart-wrenching account of loss, fractured identity and bereavement, Okojie deftly layers the psychological trauma of the daily experience of a Black woman in contemporary British society and of the specific tragedy that befalls Sidra.

Announcing the award, Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp CBE said: “This year’s winner of the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing is a radical story that plays with logic, time and place; it defies convention, as it unfolds a narrative that is multi-layered and multi-dimensional. It is risky, dazzling, imaginative and bold; it is intense and full of stunning prose; it’s also a story that reflects African consciousness in the way it so seamlessly shifts dimensions, and it’s a story that demonstrates extraordinary imagination. Most of all, it is world-class fiction from an African writer.

“At the heart of this story is its main protagonist, a young woman from Martinique living in London, who is moonlighting as a celebrity impersonator; her journey moves exquisitely and seamlessly between the exploration of the universal experiences of unspeakable suffering, pleasure and escape, and the particular experience of being Black and African in a global city such as London.

“In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has prompted deeply powerful questions about race, justice and equality in the world today – this story offers a salient exploration of what it can mean to embody and perform Blackness in the world. This is a story of tremendously delicate power and beauty, and one in which we recognise the tradition of African storytelling and imagination at its finest.”

Irenosen Okojie is a Nigerian-British writer. Her debut novel Butterfly Fish won a Betty Trask award and was shortlisted for an Edinburgh International First Book Award. Her work has been featured in the New York Times, the Observer, the Guardian, the BBC and the Huffington Post amongst other publications. Her short stories have appeared internationally in publications including Salt’s Best British Short Stories 2017Kwani? and The Year’s Best Weird Fiction. She was named at the London Short Story Festival by Booker Prize winning author Ben Okri OBE as a dynamic writing talent to watch and featured in the Evening Standard Magazine as one of London’s exciting new authors. Her short story collection Speak Gigantular, published by Jacaranda Books was shortlisted for the Edgehill Short Story Prize, the Jhalak Prize, the Saboteur Awards and nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Her collection of stories Nudibranch which includes her AKO Caine Prize winning ‘Grace Jones’ is published by Little Brown’s Dialogue Books.

‘Grace Jones’ is available to read now on the AKO Caine Prize website.

Joining Irenosen on this year’s shortlist were:

  • Erica Sugo Anyadike (Tanzania) for ‘How to Marry An African President’ published in adda: Commonwealth Stories (2019). Available to read here
  • Chikodili Emelumadu (Nigeria & UK) for ‘What do to When Your Child Brings Home a Mami Wata’ published in The Shadow Booth Volume II (2018). Available to read here.
  • Jowhor Ile (Nigeria) for ‘Fisherman’s Stew’, published in The Sewanee Review (2019). Available to read here.
  • Rémy Ngamije (Rwanda & Namibia) for ‘The Neighbourhood Watch’, published in The Johannesburg Review of Books (2019). Available to read here.

Each AKO Caine Prize shortlisted writer receives £500.

Alongside Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp CBE on the 2020 judging panel were Audrey Brown, a South African broadcast journalist, and one of the leading voices for the BBC World Service, presenting the flagship daily news and current affairs programme, Focus on Africa. Gabriel Gbadamosi, an Irish-Nigerian poet and playwright. His London novel Vauxhall (2013) won the Tibor Jones Pageturner Prize and Best International Novel at the Sharjah Book Fair. Ebissé Wakjira-Rouw, an Ethiopian-born non-fiction editor, podcaster, publisher and policy advisor at the Dutch Council for Culture in the Netherlands, and James Murua, a Kenya-based blogger, journalist, podcaster, and editor who has written for a variety of media outlets in a career spanning print, web and TV.

An anthology containing the five 2020 AKO Caine Prize shortlisted stories will be published in September 2020 by The New Internationalist. 

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