Nigerian writer Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, 2013 Caine Prize shortlistee and author of The Whispering Trees, has criticised the way that the Etisalat Prize for Flash Fiction is being run, which shift the focus “from literature, which is what the prize really should be about, to social media clout – a popularity contest if you like”.
Entries of up to 300 words can be submitted for the online Flash Fiction Prize and the top 20 stories will be chosen according to the amount of votes they receive from the public. A panel of judges will then select the winner of the £1000 cash prize.
Currently, there are more than 400 entries for the Flash Fiction Prize on the Etisalat Prize website. In an article for Brittle Paper, Ibrahim points out that, “It is inconceivable that readers will read 400 stories in order to determine which ones deserve their votes”. Inevitably, the top 20 stories will be the ones by writers who could rally enough friends to vote for them, Ibrahim believes.
He suggests that a shortlist should be chosen before the public gets to vote, that votes should only form a percentage of the points awarded to each writer and that there should be limits to the number of times a person can vote.
The Flash Fiction Prize is run alongside the Etisalat Prize for Literature, the first pan-African prize for debut books, with prize money of £15,000. Although only in its first year, the Etisalat Prize for Literature has also had some criticism leveled against it. M Lynx Qualey challenged its anglophone focus and Carmen McCain criticised it for not accepting translated African works.
I have been disenchanted by talent shows in which the results are largely determined by public votes ever since a former state government official confessed that they had done everything within their power, at the expense of the state, to ensure that a contestant from the state won a competition. The fact that the contestant wasn’t necessarily the best, and this too he admitted to, was irrelevant to him and his state’s ‘Agenda’.
So when I woke up on the morning of October 1 to a deluge of private messages from friends and acquaintances on social media asking me to vote for their entry in the Etisalat Prize for flash fiction, I was inundated by some conflicting sentiments.
- The Whispering Trees by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
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