Tag: African writers

UC Berkeley Professor Namwali Serpell Wins 2015 Caine Prize for African Writers

(photo via bookslive.co.za)
(photo via bookslive.co.za)

Namwali Serpell, an associate professor of English at the University of California, is the winner of the 2015 Caine Prize, honoring the best writing by an African author. The award was presented on July 7 at a ceremony at the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford. Zoë Wicomb, a South African author who was chair of the judges committee for this year’s Caine Prize, said that “from a very strong shortlist we have picked an extraordinary story about the aftermath of revolution with its liberatory promises shattered. It makes demands on the reader and challenges conventions of the genre. It yields fresh meaning with every reading. Formally innovative, stylistically stunning, haunting and enigmatic in its effects.”

Dr. Serpell is a native of Zambia and came to the United States at the age of 9. Her parents returned to Zambia in 2002. Her father is a professor of psychology at the University of Zambia and her mother is an economist who has worked for the United Nations. Professor Serpell was honored for her short story “The Sack,” which can be viewed here. She is the first author from Zambia to win the Caine Prize.

The Caine Prize comes with a cash award of £10,000. Dr. Serpell announced that she would share the prize money with the other authors who were on the short list for the Caine Prize. As the winner of the Caine Prize, Dr. Serpell will have the opportunity to take up a month’s residence at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., as a Writer-in-Residence at the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice. Dr. Serpell joined the faculty at Berkeley in 2008 and was promoted and granted tenure in 2014. She is the author of Seven Modes of Uncertainty (Harvard University Press, 2014). Dr. Serpell is a summa cum laude graduate of Yale University. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in English language and literature from Harvard University.

article via jbhe.com

New Wave of African Writers with an Internationalist Bent

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at the premiere, in Lagos, Nigeria, of the film “Half of a Yellow Sun,” based on her novel. (Credit: Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters)

More than a decade ago, when the young Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was struggling to get her first novel, “Purple Hibiscus,” published, an agent told her that things would be easier “if only you were Indian,” because Indian writers were in vogue. Another suggested changing the setting from Nigeria to America. Ms. Adichie didn’t take this as commentary on her work, she said, but on the timidity of the publishing world when it came to unknown writers and unfamiliar cultures, especially African ones.

These days she wouldn’t receive that kind of advice. Black literary writers with African roots (though some grew up elsewhere), mostly young cosmopolitans who write in English, are making a splash in the book world, especially in the United States. They are on best-seller lists, garner high profile reviews and win major awards, in America and in Britain. Ms. Adichie, 36, the author of “Americanah,” which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction this year, is a prominent member of an expanding group that includes Dinaw Mengestu, Helen Oyeyemi, NoViolet Bulawayo, Teju Cole, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor and Taiye Selasi, among others.

The Ethiopian-born novelist Dinaw Mengestu in 2010, when his book “How to Read the Air” was published. (Credit: Ed Ou for The New York Times)

There are reasons for the critical mass now, say writers, publishers and literature scholars. After years of political and social turmoil, positive changes in several African nations are helping to greatly expand the number of writers and readers. Newer awards like the Caine Prize for African Writing have helped, too, as have social media, the Internet and top M.F.A. programs. At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, black writers with recent African roots will make up more than 10 percent of the fiction students come September. Moreover, the number of African immigrants in the United States has more than quadrupled in the past two decades, to almost 1.7 million.

And publishing follows trends: Women, Asian-American, Indian and Latino writers have all been “discovered” and had their moment in the sun — as have African-Americans, some of whom envy the attention given to writers with more recent links in Africa.

“People used to ask where the African writers were,” said Aminatta Forna, author of “The Hired Man” (2013, set in Croatia). “They were cleaning offices and working as clerks.”

Some writers and critics scoff at the idea of lumping together diverse writers with ties to a diverse continent. But others say that this wave represents something new in its sheer size, after a long fallow period. (There were some remarkable exceptions, like Wole Soyinka’s 1986 Nobel Prize in Literature and Ben Okri’s 1991 Booker Prize.) And it differs from the postcolonial wave, roughly beginning in the 1960s, which brought international acclaim to writers like Chinua Achebe and Nuruddin Farah, among others.

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