Babatunde, 4 others make 2012 ‘African Booker’ shortlist

Posted: May 10, 2012 in arts/culture

Nigerian contemporary writer Rotimi Babatunde joined a shortlist of four other writers drawn from across the continent for the 2012 edition of the Caine prize for African, in what the judges have described as five stories which avoid the “stereotypical narratives” of African fiction.

The £10,000 Caine award, also known as the African Booker, is for a short story by an African writer published in English and is backed by the African Nobel prize winners Nadine Gordimer, Wole Soyinke, Chinua Achebe and JM Coetzee, with Booker winner Ben Okri as its new vice president.

Novelist Bernadine Evaristo, chair of this year’s judging panel, set out to find a shortlist of stories which “enlarge our concept” of Africa beyond the images which dominate the media – “War-torn Africa, Starving Africa, Corrupt Africa – in short: The Tragic Continent”.

She and her fellow judges found five tales which fulfilled her criteria: Nigerian Rotimi Babatunde’s Bombay’s Republic, Kenyan Billy Kahora’s Urban Zoning, Malawian Stanley Kenani’s Love on Trial, Zimbabwean Melissa Tandiwe Myambo’s La Salle de Départ and South African Constance Myburgh’s Hunter Emmanuel.

“These stories have an originality and facility with language that made them stand out. We’ve chosen a bravely provocative homosexual story set in Malawi; a Nigerian soldier fighting in the Burma campaign of the second world war; a hardboiled noir tale involving a disembodied leg; a drunk young Kenyan who outwits his irate employers; and the tension between Senegalese siblings over migration and family responsibility,” said Evaristo. “What we don’t have is the sort of familiar tragic stories – there is no war, no starvation, no children in really terrible situations. I don’t want to disparage this sort of story, as these are things which happen on the continent and need to be written about. But I wanted to show there is a bigger picture.”

This year, the Caine prize’s 13th, saw 122 entries submitted from 14 countries. Evaristo said this included “a lot of uninspired prose that feels so dated, so Middle England circa 1950s, even though it might have been written in Central Africa in 2012”, and called, in a blog, for “more experimentation and daring, stunning image-makers and linguistic explorers who might, for example, infuse English with an African language or syntax. Not necessarily pidgin, but perhaps something else, something new – the English language (and forms) adapted, mutated, re-invented to suit African perspectives and cultures.”

This year’s winner will be announced July 2. Last year the award was won by the Zimbabwean writer NoViolet Bulawayo for her story Hitting Budapest, about six shanty-town children.

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