On literature prizes

Christopher Farai Charamba The Reader
Last Thursday, October 5, 2017 the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Kazuo Ishiguro, a British writer of Japanese origin. Ishiguro penned novels such as the Man Booker Prize winning “The Remains of the Day” and the Time best novel of 2005, “Never Let Me Go”. According to the Nobel Academy Ishiguro, “in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world,” and thus was a deserving recipient of this year’s award.

One is yet to read any of Ishiguro’s works, but has been motivated to do so, not simply because he is a Nobel Laurette, but has been wonderfully acclaimed for over 30 years and has a somewhat broad collection of novels, screenplays and short stories under his belt. The Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded since 1901 and Alfred Nobel quoted from his will stated that it was to be awarded to one who produced “in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.”

Ishiguro joins the likes of Doris Lessing, William Golding, Pablo Neruda, Samuel Beckett, Harper Lee and Jean-Paul Satre, Wole Soyinka and last year’s recipient Bob Dylan the musician, who the Academy said won “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

In taking the prize this year, Ishiguro beat out the bookmakers’ favourites, Canadian poet and novelist Margaret Atwood, author of “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Japanese writer Haruki Murakami whose books include “1Q84’”and “Kafka on the Shore”, as well as Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiong’o who some feel is overdue for the award. Only three Africans have had the privilege of receiving a Nobel Prize in Literature. The first was the Nigerian playwright Wole Soyinka in 1986 of whom the Academy stated “in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones fashions the drama of existence.”

The other two are South African writers Nadine Gordimer and John M. Coetzee who won in 1991 and 2003 respectively. With Ngugi missing out on the Nobel once again there were parallels drawn on social media to the late Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, who also missed out on the award.

One person tweeted that perhaps it was “Time for ‘The Ngugi Wa Thiong’o Prize for African Literature’ curated in Africa by Africans. This sounds indeed like a noble idea — pun intended — but as one tweet suggested, it should hopefully also be funded by Africans. Currently the most famous award for African writers is the Caine Prize for African Writing, a UK based literature award to African short story writers. This year’s winner of the award was Bushra al-Fadil from Sudan for “The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away”.

Zimbabwean writers Brian Chikwava and NoViolet Bulawayo are former recipients of that prestigious award. Probably what comes close or perhaps is exactly what was suggested on Twitter is The Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, which is funded by The Lumina Foundation, an organisation founded by Ogochukwu Promise and is sponsored by the likes of Dangote, Etisalat and Ecobank.

According to The Lumina Foundation, the Wole Soyinka award is a prize “viewed as Africa’s Nobel (which) honours people, who have used their talents well enough to affect others positively. It honours Africa’s great writers and causes their works to be appreciated.”

Founded in 2005, the prize is awarded biennially though the 2016 prize was not issued for reasons unknown. Previous winners include Nnedi Okorafor in 2008 for “Zahrah the Windseeker” and South African writer Kopano Matlwa. The celebration of African Literature and promotion of African writers by their own people is important and perhaps one should advocate for Zimbabwe to have its own, the Dambudzo Marechera Literature Award perhaps. Recognition of writers, particularly by their own people, from their own people’s pocket, will go a long way in building up the industry here in Zimbabwe and on the continent as a whole.

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