Despite the stereotypes, Africa has contributed significantly to the world, not least in the field of culture, entertainment and writing. While they haven’t quite stolen the limelight on the international scene, African writers are managing to hold their own, often winning the top prizes at various literary awards.
For anyone trying to discover what’s new or special in the world of African writing, a good place to start is by reviewing the literary awards scene. In this section, we look at some of the major literary awards that have helped bring African writing to the world. We also bring you the African writers who have managed to scale the heights and receive international recognition at these awards.
Commonwealth Writers’ Prize
Established in 1987, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize is considered one of the leading awards in the literary world. The prize aims to encourage new Commonwealth fiction, and to ensure that works of merit reach a wider audience outside their country of origin. True to its aims, the award has long served as a platform for African writers seeking to reach an international audience. Read more…
Man Booker Prize for Fiction and Man Booker International Prize
The Man Booker Prize for Fiction, first awarded in 1969, promotes the finest in fiction by rewarding the very best book of the year. A related prize, the Man Booker International Prize, is awarded every two years and recognises one writer for their achievement in fiction. This prize was first awarded in 2005.
Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize
Established in 1994 by the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize Trust and administered by JPMorgan Chase Bank as trustee, the Prize is one of the world’s largest and most prestigious awards in the arts. It is given annually to “a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life.” Read our post on Chinua Achebe receiving the 2010 Prize.
Nobel Prize in Literature
The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded annually to an author from any country for oustanding work in the field of literature. The award generally recognizes lifetime achievement and as such, is a pointer to writers who have succceeded, and not necessarily to their individual works. Nigerian author and poet, Wole Soyinka was the first African author to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Read our post on Africa’s Nobel Prize winners.
Orange Prize for Fiction and Orange Award for New Fiction
Set up in 1995, the Orange Prize for Fiction celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in women’s writing from throughout the world. Its sister prize, the Orange Award for New Writers was launched in 2005 to focus on emerging talent and the evidence of future potential.
Zimbabwean author Irene Sabatini won the 2010 Orange Award for New Writers with her novel The Boy Next Door.
Penguin Prize for African Writing
Innaugurated in 2010, the Penguin Prize for African Writing seeks to highlight the diverse writing talent on the African continent and make new African fiction and non-fiction available to a wider readership. Winners receive a cash prize of $ 6,800 and a publishing contract with Penguin Books South Africa, with worldwide distribution through the Penguin Group. Read our post on the 2010 prize winners.
Caine Prize for African Writing
Named in memory of the late Sir Michael Caine, former Chairman of Booker plc, the prize is awarded each year for the best original short story by an African writer, whether in Africa or elsewhere, published in the English language.
The first prize was awarded in 2000 to the Sudanese writer Leila Aboulela for her short story “The Museum”, at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair 2000 in Harare. In total, eleven writers so far have received the prize, originating from seven different countries in Africa. The most recent award was in 2010 to the Sierra Leonean writer Olufemi Terry for his work “Stickfighting Days”.
For a full list of African writers that have received these awards, click here.