Yesterday, Penguin Books South Africa announced the winners of the 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing at the Mail and Guardian Literary Festival.
The 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing – Non Fiction Award went to Pius Adesanmi, for his entry, “You are not a country Africa.” Ellen Mulenga Banda-Aaku from Zambia won 2010 Penguin Prize for African Writing – Fiction Award, with her first novel, “Patchwork”.
Adesanmi and Aaku are both seasoned writers.
Adesanmi, who hails from Nigeria, continues that country’s long dominance of the African literary scene. He is currently an Assistant Professor at Carleton University, Ottawa Canada. In 2001, he received the Association of Nigerian Authors Poetry Prize for his poetry collection, “The Wayfarer and Other Poems.”
Aaku’s first book, “Wandi’s Little Voice” won the 2004 Macmillan’s Writers Prize for Africa in the children’s books category, and her short story, “Sozi’s Box” won the 2007 Commonwealth Short story competition.
Africa’s Literary Desert
Of the 13 finalists, all but three came from just two countries – Nigeria and South Africa, continuing the trend, of little representation from the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa.
And, although many critics cite the poor reading culture on the Continent, this surely cannot be the reason that there are so few writers from the rest of Africa. It is certainly not a lack of demand because judging from the success of authors like Chimamanda Adichie and Uwem Akpam, there is considerable interest in African writing on the international scene. Neither can we blame Penguin, Macmillan, Caine and other awarding bodies given the fact that entering the awards is voluntary.
There seems to be a striking correlation between the state of writing in a given country, and the vibrancy of the local publishing industry. This, perhaps, explains why countries like Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa continue to produce Africa’s most successful and renowned writers. In Kenya, for instance, the East Africa Publishing House has been a major vehicle, giving many a local writer their first real shot at success. The same cannot be said for many other African countries.
Are writers from outside South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria too inward looking, or are they simply not good enough to compete? Post your comments here. Join the conversation, tell us what you think needs to be done to encourage writers from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Tanzania and other African countries.