Now in its nineteenth year the Caine Prize for African Writing is Africa’s leading literary prize, and is awarded to a short story by an African writer published in English, whether in Africa or elsewhere.
Redemption Song brings together the five 2018 shortlisted stories, along with stories written at the Caine Prize Writers’ Workshop, which took place in Rwanda in April 2018. The collection includes two Zimbabwean writers Bongani Kona and Bongani Sibanda. Bongani Kona is also featured in the 2017 amaBooks short story collection Moving On and Other Zimbabwean Stories and in the 2016 Caine Prize anthology The Daily Assortment of Astonishing Things.
The winner of the 2018 prize was Kenyan writer Makena Onjerika for 'Fanta Blackcurrant', published in Wasafiri. The Chair of the Caine Prize judging panel, award winning Ethiopian-American novelist and writer, Dinaw Mengestu, announced Makena as the winner of the £10,000 prize at an award dinner on Monday 2 July. The ceremony was held for the second time in Senate House, in partnership with SOAS and the Centre for African Studies.
Narrated in the first person plural, 'Fanta Blackcurrant' follows Meri, a street child of Nairobi, who makes a living using her natural intelligence and charisma, but wants nothing more than ‘a big Fanta Blackcurrant for her to drink every day and it never finish'. While it seems Meri's natural wit may enable her to escape the streets, days follow days and years follow years, and having turned to the sex trade, she finds herself pregnant. Her success stealing from Nairobi’s business women attracts the attention of local criminals, who beat her and leave her for dead. After a long recovery, Meri ‘crossed the river and then we do not know where she went’.
Dinaw Mengestu praised the story in his remarks, saying, 'the winner of this year’s Caine Prize is as fierce as they come – a narrative forged but not defined by the streets of Nairobi, a story that stands as more than just witness. Makena Onjerika’s 'Fanta Blackcurrant 'presides over a grammar and architecture of its own making, one that eschews any trace of sentimentality in favour of a narrative that is haunting in its humour, sorrow and intimacy'.
Makena is a graduate of the MFA Creative Writing programme at New York University, and has been published in Urban Confustions and Wasifiri. She lives in Nairobi, Kenya, and is currently working on a fantasy novel.
The other shortlisted stories comprised:
American Dream by Nonyelum Ekwempu (Nigeria)
The Armed Letter Writers by Olofunke Ogundimu (Nigeria)
Involution by Stacy Hardy (South Africa)
Wednesday’s Story by Wole Talabi (Nigeria)
The workshop stories are:
No Ordinary Soirée by Paula Akugizibwe
Tie Kidi by Awuor Onyango
Calling the Clouds Home by Heran T. Abate
America by Caroline Numuhire
All Things Bright and Beautiful by Troy Onyango
Departure by Nsah Mala
Where Rivers Go to Die by Dilman Dila
Ngozi by Bongani Sibanda
The Weaving of Death by Lucky Grace Isingizwe
Redemption Song by Arinze Ifeakandu
Spaceman by Bongani Kona
Grief is the Gift that Breaks the Spirit Open by Eloghosa Osunde
The 2018 judging panel comprises: Dinaw Mengestu, journalist, author and graduate of Georgetown University and of Columbia University’s M.F.A programme in fiction; Alain Mabanckou, prolific Francophone Congolese poet and novelist and Man Booker International Prize finalist (2015); reporter, columnist and poet Ahmed Rajab; Henrietta Rose-Innes, a South African author who won the Caine Prize in 2008; Lola Shoneyin, a Nigerian writer who has won the Ken Saro-Wiwa Prose Prize, among others.
The prize was launched in 2000 to encourage and highlight the richness and diversity of African writing by bringing it to a wider audience internationally. The focus on the short story reflects the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition.