Alert! South African Mandla Langa and Nigerian Uwem Akpan have won the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prizes for the Africa region. Langa won the “Best Book” category for his novel, The Lost Colours of the Chameleon, published by Pan Macmillan and Akpan the “Best First Book” category for his book of short stories, Say You’re One of Them, published by Abacus.
The winners were announced at Durban’s Time of the Writer this evening.
Akpan’s book was previously shortlisted for the Caine Prize, and beat no fewer than five South African rivals to the Best First Book gong. Langa’s novel rose to the top of an SA-only shortlist. (Click here for the complete 2009 CWP shortlists.) Both he and Langa receive £1 000, and go on to compete with with other regional winners for the overall Best Book and Best First Book prizes, worth £10 000 and £5 000 respectively.
Langa is currently attending the Time of the Writer, and so was on hand to hear the annoucement, and make a few remarks:
12 March 2009: Alert!We’ve updated this post with a report from Tymon Smith of The Sunday Times who is in attendance at the Time of the Writer which includes a judges report:
Elinor Sisulu, Chair of the Judges, commented:
“Mandla Langa’s Lost Colours of the Chameleon emerged as the strongest contender in a field of works of the highest technical proficiency, because of the sustained quality of his prose. In a complex novel that combines allegory and realism, Langa deconstructs the inner workings of a mythical African state, laying bare the frailties of leaders too blinded by power to effectively confront the major challenges of their times. Patiently, Langa threads the characters and their stories into the weave of his overall agenda – to provide every citizen reader/thinker/talker the vocabulary with which to confront the origins of the paralysis at the heart of the failure of the African state. In a South Africa and in an Africa where merely cataloguing the ills of the state has been the norm, this novel dares the reader to read on and imagine the state differently. A triumph of a novel peppered with little doses of humour where humour would be taboo!”
- Listen to Mandla Langa’s acceptance speech here
Read an excerpt from The Lost Colours of the Chameleon:
August this year has become a very important month for the people of Bangula. There is expectation that President Abioseh Gondo, who was actually born in August, will not survive the inquiry. Rumour has it that Zebulon, in league with the Provisional Authority for Progress, has already tasked the carpenters to construct a gallows. Not waiting for the rumour to be confirmed, people are fleeing the island in droves.
Mr Hieronymus Jerome remembers the day of his own flight.
it was in August, almost a lifetime ago, when he was just ten years old. In the sugarcane field that day, he felt the rise of the wind and the snap of the tall grass against his shins. His anger came in waves of nausea and then subsided.
Read an excerpt from Say You’re One of Them:
Now that my eldest sister, Maisha, was twelve, none of us knew how to relate to her anymore. She had never forgiven our parents for not being rich enough to send her to school. She had been behaving like a cat that was going feral: she came home less and less frequently, staying only to change her clothes and give me some money to pass on to our parents. When home, she avoided them as best she could, as if their presence reminded her of too many things in our lives that needed money. Though she would snap at Baba occasionally, she never said anything to Mama. Sometimes Mama went out of her way to provoke her. “Malaya! Whore! You don’t even have breasts yet!” she’d say. Maisha would ignore her.
Congratulations to both authors and good luck in the next round!
- The Lost Colours of the Chameleon by Mandla Langa
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- Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan
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Photo of Uwem Akpan courtesy wnyc