Thursday, 4 August 2011

Zimbabwean Wins The Caine Prize

As a Zimbabwean literary blog, it is appalling that we have missed out on a major piece of Zimbabwean literary news . . . a Zimbabwean has won the Caine!

The Caine is often described as Africa's Booker, and is awarded annually to the best short story from the continent. It was last won by a Zimbabwean in 2004 (Brian Chikwava, who went on to write HARARE NORTH.) This makes two Zimbabwean wins in eight years, not bad for a country holding just 10 million of African's 1 billion people. In short: ha! We may not have an economy but we still have writers! Who needs a stupid economy anyway.

Full text of the story is here.

As a side point, I see NoViolet Bulowayo has lived in the US since 1999, but says she longs to be writing back in Africa. I think it is interesting how many writers defined as African live in the US and UK. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is another one. I suspect this is primarily a question of economics, but I do wonder what effect - if any - this is having on the literature of the continent . . .


  1. You lost out on this. But you provided a fresh insight and another discussable topic. This is a valid point. Most of these writers are African on the skin but hardly remember anything about the continent about which they write. That's why I am getting fed up with these kind of stories. Most of them are still stuck with their old memories and so have stories replete with these memories.

  2. It's really interesting, isn't it? I can't quite imagine what it would be to live in one place and write about another. But then on the other hand, I can see where you might be flummoxed as to what to write about America. I see Alexander Fuller, who is Zimbabwean, whose first two books were about Zimbabwe, has just written one about a cowboy in the US, where she now lives - I think that must be a strange journey.

  3. Congrats, Noviolet. Good article, Sarah... The question is, how much of these stories are authentic after their long stay abroad.

  4. Tonderai Munyevu6 August 2011 at 06:08

    read the story and i think its a little typical of african writers who live abroad, writing about a distant place, from memory. its also the kind of story that the caine likes. would it still be eligible if the 'african writer, in the diaspora, writing stories that are set on the moon? as a person who lives between zimbabwe and the uk i find that this sort of writing and the promotion of it undermines any progress in dynamic work coming out of africa. its boring.
    the other thing about the caine is that you have to be 'published' to qualify, very difficult if you are an unfound dambudzo in highfields. however, we must congratulate NoViolet and look forward to seeing her back in Zim!

  5. I think you should write a story titled UNFOUND DAMBUDZO IN THE FIELDS, that would be brilliant! I guess it is kind of a little typical, in that it is about poverty - last year's was too. It would be interesting to look back and see how many Caine winners/shortlisted are about middle or upper class African life, rather than poverty, villages, etc. I haven't read the Caine's backlist so maybe I'm misjudging it and plenty are . .

  6. Nice news, Sarah! Congratulations to NoViolet Bulawayo! Three cheers to Zimbabwean literature!

    I will read Bulawayo's story in a while and comment on it.

    I liked the question you posed - on whether living in one country and writing about another has an effect on the literature which comes out. It is a topic about which I have been thinking for a while. I find that most of the time, writers who write about their countries of origin write about the not-so-good things about those countries. And most of the time, their works reflect their experiences when they grew up there or when their parents / grandparents grew up there and doesn't reflect the present reality. When I think about it, I also don't know how an author identifies herself / himself - for example if an African / Chinese / Indian author lives in America, is she / he an American or is she / he an African / Chinese / Indian? Does the answer to this question depend on what the author writes about? Or does it depend on the author's passport? Or the general public opinion? What happens to the author's children? (If I have to use actual examples, is Chinua Achebe Nigerian or American? Is Salman Rushdie British or Indian?) This seems to be a complicated question to me. Most of the time, readers and publishers and critics and the general public decide who the author is, and we don't even know what the author thinks about it. I had a conversation with one of my friends on this, and while my friend felt that Salman Rushdie and Jhumpa Lahiri are Indian, I felt that Salman Rushdie was British while Jhumpa Lahiri was American and they wrote about India. I think this is a complex question on one's identity and won't have an easy answer. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

  7. That is so interesting Vishy. I think the example of Chinua Achebe is fascinating. It raises the possibility that at one point in your life you could be African, and at another point American.

    I agree with you actually about Rushdie and Lahiri. I think perhaps the answer is that it is too narrow to say someone is one thing - many people are a mix. In the future, it will probably be odd and old fashioned to say you come from one place, as most people will come from two or more!

    What is important is not to be arrogant when you write - to say you are writing about x, or y, when in fact you don't really know that much about it. I know for example that many Zimbabweans now live outside Zimbabwe, and they often have very odd ideas about what is going on in Zim. That doesn't mean that their view is not valid; I just think if you are writing about a country you don't live in, a dose of caution is perhaps required? But I suppose you are right, it is not the author's decision, but the public's, finally, so it's hard to control.

  8. I always struggle with who to count as a 'Nigerian' author for my weekly series, and have taken the quite loose side that an author who writes about Nigeria or identifies as Nigerian counts, wherever they live. But that is in part because it is so difficult (and sometimes pricey!) to get books from Nigerians who are still living in Nigeria. It is the same, sadly, for other African countries as well - so hard to find the books.

    I didn't realize that writers had to be published to qualify for the Caine prize, that certainly would make it harder for local African authors who already face more struggles in even getting published.

    Very interesting post and discussion!

  9. Amy I think you have hit on a really good point here. I sometimes think the whole problem can be reduced to one of economics. If you want to be able to live as an author, you need to be able to hook up with big publishers and big distributors - and sadly, you can't yet do that in most of Africa. Thus the continent's stories continue to be written from outside.

  10. I liked very much what you said, Sarah - that an author might identify with one country at one point of time in her / his life and with another country at another point of time. I also agree with you that an author's point of view is valid when compared with any other point of view, but an author should be cautious and not arrogant while writing about a country and its culture. You have put it so beautifully! It is sad that African authors living in Africa are not able to connect with big publishers and distributors and so the story of Africa is written by writers who live outside. I hope this changes in the future.

  11. I have enjoyed these discussions. And I must say that I agree with you all on this point.