This week I take a break from reviewing a book to focus on the most prestigious literary prize in Africa, for African writers.
Writers all over Africa have been biting their nails nervously for the past few weeks as the nominations for the natural ten thousand British pound prize were knocking on the door and when they were announced, there was a collective sense of surprise – No Nigerians, no Kenyans but one Ugandan and four southern Africans – Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa which took two.
No Rwanda on the list – yet, and only you, the passionate readers can become writers and eventually change that course in the near future.
For starters what is the Caine Prize? The Prize is named in celebration of the late Sir Michael Caine, former Chairman of Booker plc, for nearly 25 years Chairman of the Booker Prize management committee.
Shortly before he died, Sir Michael Caine was working on the idea of a prize to encourage the growing recognition of the worth of African writing in English, its richness and diversity, by bringing it to a wider audience.
His friends and colleagues decided to carry this idea forward and establish a prize of £10,000 to be awarded annually in his memory with a focus on the short story, as reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition.
How do you become a short story writer? I know of one way – read, read, read every short story you can lay your hands on. Reading or writing is not something someone is born knowing how to do.
It is a learnt habit and it comes with experience and patience. The motive should never be making money. If your main aim for fiction writing is to make money, try something else. With writing, money may come or it may never come. It is passion for the art that comes first.
The main part of it has to be for the purpose of your own enjoyment, like you would while watching a film or listening to a song. With time you begin to realize that you like this writer or prefer this writer’s style or sometimes even one particular short story.
For example all the five short listed short stories out of the 127 entries from the whole continent are available for your reading pleasure on the Caine Prize website (www.caineprize.com).
In these five stories, you will find the cream of writing on the whole continent, the best of quality and a good idea of where you want to be if you are serious about short story writing.
In order to enter you must have published a short story of more than 3,000 words. According to the Washington Post, the Caine Prize ‘spotlights younger writers and emerging literary trends on the continent’.
In the next five weeks, I will be reviewing each of the short listed stories in this column. Only that this time, you get the chance to read the story for yourself on the website and agree or disagree with my criticism of the story, and you are well on the way of your writing journey.
It’s not easy but nothing in this world is. Five years ago, I embarked on such a journey. Last year, my literary friend and mentor in some ways encouraged me to submit stories for an anthology that seeks to promote new emerging talent and seeks to depict the different ‘World Englishes’ by a UK publishing firm.
The anthology including both our stories was recently published and submitted for the Caine and guess who got nominated, my literary friend, Beatrice Lamwaka.
Next year or the other, it could be you, only if you take the courage to make that first step – the decision to think about it, read about it and sleep on it.
Next Saturday, we begin with Beatrice Lamwaka’s Butterfly Dreams.