Alert! Nigeria’s EC Osondu has won the 10th Caine Prize, the “African Booker” that’s worth £10 000, for his short story, “Waiting”, originally published in Guernicamag.com. The gong passes to him from Henrietta Rose-Innes, last year’s winner.
Osondu was announced as the winner at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, UK, this evening. Caine Prize judges’ chair Nana Yaa Mensah called the story “a tour de force describing, from a child’s point of view, the dislocating experience of being a displaced person. It is powerfully written with not an ounce of fat on it – and deeply moving.”
Osondu was previously shortlisted for the award in 2007, for his story “Jimmy Carter’s Eyes”, which was anthologised in that year’s Caine Prize collection, Jambula Tree and Other Stories.
Osondu wins more than cash: he will now also have the chance to take up a month’s residence at Georgetown University, Washington DC USA, as a “Caine Prize/Georgetown University Writer-in-Residence”. We gather from his Facebook page that Osondu resides in New York state, USA; given that he’s a “fan” of the Syracuse Orange, we may also safely assume that he’s associated with Syracuse University.
Read the winning story, “Waiting” by EC Osondu:
My name is Orlando Zaki. Orlando is taken from Orlando, Florida, which is what is written on the t-shirt given to me by the Red Cross. Zaki is the name of the town where I was found and from which I was brought to this refugee camp. My friends in the camp are known by the inscriptions written on their t-shirts. Acapulco wears a t-shirt with the inscription, Acapulco. Sexy’s t-shirt has the inscription Tell Me I’m Sexy. Paris’s t-shirt says See Paris And Die. When she is coming toward me, I close my eyes because I don’t want to die. Even when one gets a new t-shirt, your old name stays with you. Paris just got a new t-shirt that says Ask Me About Jesus, but we still call her Paris and we are not asking her about anybody. There was a girl in the camp once whose t-shirt said Got Milk? She threw the t-shirt away because some of the boys in the camp were always pressing her breasts forcefully to see if they had milk. You cannot know what will be written on your t-shirt. We struggle and fight for them and count ourselves lucky that we get anything at all. Take Lousy for instance; his t-shirt says My Dad Went To Yellowstone And Got Me This Lousy T-shirt. He cannot fight, so he’s not been able to get another one and has been wearing the same t-shirt since he came to the camp. Though what is written on it is now faded, the name has stuck. Some people are lucky: London had a t-shirt that said London and is now in London. He’s been adopted by a family over there. Maybe I will find a family in Orlando, Florida that will adopt me.
Visit the Guardian website tomorrow for a podcast interview with the author (thanks @carmitstead). Meanwhile, here’s a 2007 BBC interview with Osondu, in which the writer ventures the rather questionable opinion that “Africa has not produced a major master of the short fiction form” (granted, this was before both The Thing Around Your Neck and An Elegy for Easterly exploded on to the scene, but South Africa, for instance, has had fine exponents of the short story for over a century):
You co-edited an anthology on the late Ken Saro-Wiwa. How do you balance editing projects with your creative writing?
The Ken Saro-Wiwa book was done a long time ago. I’m hoping to find an outlet for yet another anthology of Nigerian writing from writers based abroad. The good thing about anthologies is that they enable you to feed a multitude instead of an individual. Balancing, well when I was in Advertising back in Nigeria I hardly had time but here in Syracuse aside from a few hours of teaching duties I spend almost all my time writing.
Where do you draw your inspiration? Any influences?
I have no influences to declare at this time. On inspiration, I think for me this comes from reading, as I find myself twisting other people’s stories, giving them my own endings and wondering what I would do with the same material. Sadly, Africa has not produced a major master of the short fiction form.
Congratulations to Osondu – we look forward to seeing more fiction from his pen in the near and far future.