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Chika Oduah Asks Whether the Caine Prize is Only Interested in a Particular Kind of (Nigerian) Story

Tope Folarin, who won the Caine Prize for African Writing on Monday, is the fifth Nigerian writer to do so in the 13 years that the prize has been awarded. Although the sheer size of Nigeria’s population might have played in role in this, Chika Oduah investigates in an article for Africa is a Country whether there isn’t perhaps more to the trend than numbers. She writes that “it could be a problem if the prize demands a particular kind of story, the kind Nigerian writers might be good at supplying”.

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She refers to judge Leila Aboulela comment that, “Nearly every submitted story reflected the economic, political and social difficulties of life in Africa” and points out that, “Religion, transnational identity or cultural assimilation in Western societies reoccur thematically as conceptual frameworks in the stories that make it to the shortlist of the prize’s yearly editions, especially from a youthful, unassuming point-of-view. This year was no exception”.

These are “clichéd portrayals of Africa” Oduah says and she speculates that “in the desire to win the Caine Prize, African writers are being influenced by stories that have won in the past”.

The article also quotes Helon Habila, Nnedi Okorafor, Victor Ehikhamenor and literary critic Ikhide Ikheola on the topic.

When Tope Folarin was announced as the latest winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing, it made him the fifth Nigerian writer in 14 years to win what is arguably the most high-profile literary award for the African short story. There are 55 countries in Africa, and even before the win, some commentators had dubbed the Caine Prize “a Nigerian affair”. Is there any truth in this? And if there is, how do we account for Nigeria’s dominance of the prize?

Tope’s story, Miracle, about a boy who receives healing from a blind Nigerian prophet ministering at a predominantly Nigerian U.S.–based evangelical church, beat out Chinelo Okparanta’s America, The Whispering Trees by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Elnathan John’s Bayan Layi and Foreign Aid by Pede Hollist. All the shortlisted authors, excluding Hollist, are of Nigerian descent.

It has to be pointed out, however, as CA Davids did on Twitter, that South Africans have also won the prize twice (Henrietta Rose-Innes and Mary Watson), which doesn’t fit the pattern Oduah is trying to discern:

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