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Nigerian Sefi Atta Wins the 2009 Noma Award

Sefi AttaNews from HomeEverything Good Will ComeAlert! The Noma Award for Publishing in Africa has announced that Nigerian Sefi Atta has won its 2009 prize, worth $10 000, for Lawless and Other Stories, published in the United Kingdom and the USA as News From Home.

Lawless/News is Atta’s first book of short stories; she has previously published a novel, Everything Good Will Come. Another novel, Swallow, is forthcoming.

The Noma Award’s jury citation is lavish in its praise:

This collection of short stories and a novella represent the work of a first class writer. The gripping stories of the Nigerian quotidian are of consistently high quality and uniformly outstanding. The writer has an immense gift of language and mastery of narrative in which she redefines the Nigerian social imaginary. She tells her stories in different voices and from the perspective of a whole range of memorable characters, balancing content and form. She does not romanticise or demonise the world of her characters: her genius is to deprive the stories of their sensationalism, allowing her to display complete mastery of her craft. One of the most original, imaginative and gifted fiction writers in Africa, and arguably the best of her generation.

The jury also singled out three books for honourable mentions: Dancing with Life: Tales from the Township by Christopher Mlalazi (Zimbabwe), Leila ou la femme de l’aube by Sonia Chamkhi (Tunisia) and Love in the Time of Treason by South Africa’s own Zubeida Jaffer. Last year’s winner was South African Zachariah Rapola, for Beginnings of a Dream.

Atta, born in Lagos, is US-based – she lives in Mississippi, of all places – but her award will be presented “at a special ceremony in Africa, details of which will be announced later”. I was gladdened to read that she spent a quarter as a writer-in-residence at my alma mater, Northwestern. The Noma Award press release carries a brief biography:

Sefi Atta was educated in Nigeria, the UK and US, and is a former chartered accountant and a graduate of the Creative Writing Program at Antioch University, Los Angeles. Her short stories have been published in literary journals, her radio plays have been broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation, and she has received many awards for her writing. She was the winner of the PEN International 2004/5 David T.K. Wong Prize, and won the first Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa in 2006 for her debut novel Everything Good Will Come.

Here follow items of interest and links related to Sefi Atta on the web:

Interview with Sefi Atta on Everything Good Will Come

Congratulations on Everything Good Will Come. I thoroughly enjoyed it – it was so evocative of my memories of growing up in Lagos – the Ikoyi waterfront, the sights and smells of Sandgrouse Market, the Owambe parties. I am particularly excited that the stories of my generation of Nigerians are being told, in your work and that of Chimamanda Adichie, Helon Habila, Ike Oguine and Chris Abani. Was recording this slice of existence a conscious consideration for you? I suppose in a roundabout way I’m asking – Why did you write Everything Good Will Come?

Thanks very much. Compulsion is the answer to your question. It began with an image of the Lagos lagoon, a wooden fence and these two girls, Enitan and Sheri, on either side. I had a strong sense of their spirits and nothing else, but I couldn’t get the image out of my mind. Then I had to turn it into a story, moving to the next image and then the next. I consciously did not hold back as I wrote and ended up with this very personal chronicle of post-independent Nigeria.

Sefi Atta short stories online

Excerpt from Swallow by Sefi Atta

I had to admit that my new job at Federal Community Bank was harder than I’d expected, so stressful that I looked forward to going home to an empty flat every evening. I remember clearly the Wednesday of the following week, I returned from work, blind to the people on our street, chatting, buying food from hawkers, laughing for no just cause, and blaming the government for their woes. I noticed a new poster wrapped around a National Electric Power pole. Lateness to work was an act of indiscipline, it stated, and only reminded me of how much I disliked Mr. Salako and how I would never get used to working for him.

Sefi Atta links

Book details

Photo courtesy Sefi Atta’s Facebook page

 

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