Sierra-Leonean author Aminatta Forna was today announced as winner of the 2011 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize. Her book, The Memory of Love took the Best Book prize, while the prize for Best First Book went to Craig Cliff from New Zealand for his book, A Man Melting.
Forna, who was born in Glasgow, Scotland and raised in Sierra Leone, West Africa has had a magnificent year and is on the shortlist for a number of other literary prizes. Her first book, The Devil that Danced on the Water, was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2003. Her novel Ancestor Stones was winner of the 2008 Hurston Wright Legacy Award, the Literaturpreis in Germany, was nominated for the International IMPAC Award and selected by the Washington Post as one of the most important books of 2006. Aminatta lives in London.
Commenting on this year’s prize, Nicholas Hasluck, Chair of the judging panel said, “This year’s winning books demonstrate the irreducible power of the written word at a time of rapid global change and uncertainty. The standard of entries this year has been exceptional, showcasing work with strong insight, spirit and voice introducing readers to unfamiliar worlds”, said.
The judges praised The Memory of Love (read view here) for its risk taking, elegance and breadth. A poignant story about friendship, betrayal, obsession and second chances – the novel is an immensely powerful portrayal of human resilience. The judges concluded that The Memory of Love delicately delves into the courageous lives of those haunted by the indelible effects of Sierra Leone’s past and yet amid that loss gives us a sense of hope and optimism for their future. Forna has produced a bold, deeply moving and accomplished novel which confirms her place among the most talented writers in literature today.
Now in its 25th year and supported by the Macquarie Group Foundation, Commonwealth Writers’ Prize is unique in offering both established and emerging writers the opportunity to showcase their work. The Best Book winner claims £10,000 while the writer of Best First Book wins £5,000.
For the last 25 years the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize has played a key role in unearthing new international literary names, bringing compelling stories of human experience to a wider audience. As highly acclaimed international authors Aminatta Forna and Craig Cliff will follow in the footsteps of some of the biggest names in modern fiction in winning the Prize, including Louis De Bernieres, Andrea Levy, Ian McEwan, and Zadie Smith.
Danny Sriskandarajah Interim Director of the Commonwealth Foundation, who congratulated the winners noted, “The Prize embodies the Commonwealth at its best. It unearths the best writing from across 54 countries, promoting dialogue and understanding on an international scale.”
With her win, Forna becomes only the fifth African writer to win the overall Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Best Prize. Nigerian writer, Festus Iyayi received the 1987 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for his book, “Heroes” becoming the first African writer to ever win this prestigious award. Acclaimed South African author J. M. Coetzee was the second winner, receiving the prize in 2000 for his book “Disgrace”. Two other writers, Manu Herbstein (South Africa) for his book, Ama, A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, for her book, Purple Hibiscus won the Overall Winner Prize for Best First Book in 2002 and 2005 respectively.