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Okwiri Oduor Wins the 2014 Caine Prize for “My Father’s Head”

Alert! On the day when the sad news broke that one of its patrons, Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer, had passed away, the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing was awarded to Okwiri Oduor for her short story, “My Father’s Head”, which originally appeared in Short Story Day Africa‘s collection, Feast, Famine and Potluck.

Oduor receives £10 000, while each shortlistee received £500. Read her winning story here.

Feast, Famine and PotluckThe announcement was made, comme toujours, at a gala supper at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, UK. The winner, who hails from Kenya, emerged from a field containing another Kenyan, one South African, one Zimbabwean and a Ghanaian/Zambian – a shortlist of some contrast to the previous year’s, which was an all-West African affair, and which was won by Nigerian Tope Folarin.

Oduor, who was at the prizegiving, was quoted as follows:

 

Press release

Okwiri Oduor wins fifteenth Caine Prize for African Writing

Kenya’s Okwiri Oduor has won the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing, described as Africa’s leading literary award, for her short story entitled ‘My Father’s Head’ from Feast, Famine and Potluck (Short Story Day Africa, South Africa, 2013).

The Chair of Judges, Jackie May MBE, announced Okwiri Oduor as the winner of the £10,000 prize at a dinner held this evening (Monday, 14 July) at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

‘My Father’s Head’ explores the narrator’s difficulty in dealing with the loss of her father and looks at the themes of memory, loss and loneliness. The narrator works in an old people’s home and comes into contact with a priest, giving her the courage to recall her buried memories of her father.

Jackie Kay praised the story, saying, “Okwiri Oduor is a writer we are all really excited to have discovered. ‘My Father’s Head’ is an uplifting story about mourning – Joycean in its reach. She exercises an extraordinary amount of control and yet the story is subtle, tender and moving. It is a story you want to return to the minute you finish it.”
Okwiri Oduor directed the inaugural Writivism Literary Festival in Kampala, Uganda in August 2013. Her novella, The Dream Chasers was highly commended in the Commonwealth Book Prize, 2012. She is a 2014 MacDowell Colony fellow and is currently at work on her debut novel.

Ends

Here are key tweets from the event, presided over by the prize’s vice president, Ben Okri, who gave a rousing speech on our individual and collective freedom of the imagination:

Book details

Photo courtesy the Caine Prize

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://www.modjajibooks.co.za" rel="nofollow">Colleen</a>
    Colleen
    July 15th, 2014 @08:46 #
     
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    Congratulations to Short Story Day Africa for publishing the winning short story in the first place and for submitting it to the Caine Prize. I do wish that the Caine Prize would use some of its marketing machinery to acknowledge the publishers that do this work of encouraging and unearthing stories of the calibre of all 5 stories in the short list and the winning story especially.

    So Rachel and Tiah, as well as all the volunteers and supporters of the SSDA work, well done!!

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  • <a href="http://tiahbeautement.typepad.com/quotidian/" rel="nofollow">tiah</a>
    tiah
    July 15th, 2014 @09:20 #
     
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    YAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAYAY!!!!!!!!

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  • <a href="http://rachelzadok.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rachel Zadok</a>
    Rachel Zadok
    July 15th, 2014 @12:05 #
     
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    Yay! So happy for Okwiri, but I agree with Colleen's sentiments. The small independent publishers give writers a platform and enter them into the prize, so it would be good if they got some recognition for their efforts.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    July 15th, 2014 @21:11 #
     
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    Seconded/thirded. I'd be interested to know what recognition Short Story Day Africa was afforded by the Caine powers-that-be. Has one anthology (produced literally on a kitchen table by an NPO) ever produced two out of five shortlistees before?

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  • <a href="http://tiahbeautement.typepad.com/quotidian/" rel="nofollow">tiah</a>
    tiah
    July 16th, 2014 @09:31 #
     
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    It is tricky. Caine, via Lizzy Attree, has been cheering SSDA since the beginning. The place where the stories were originally published is on their site and was on the programme at the event. Some African based press, including Books Live, has mentioned us - which is wonderful. But the big announcement on The Guardian article not only neglects to mention the story, the wording of some quotes makes it sound as if the judges came upon the story all their own. BBC interview of the winner also doesn't mention us. In fact, I've yet to find a non-African press say a word.

    Nor does everyone read the very strict requirements to be nominated for Caine, one being the story must already have been published AND the publisher (not the author) must put the story forward. Nor does everyone look at the website with the publisher's name next to the story. So rightly or wrongly, many who only notice Caine via the international press are under the impression that these stories are only being seen now.

    I honestly do not need fame. However, SSDA has yet to be able to properly financially compensate Rachel and I for our time and expenses. 2013 was the first year we got some money back. Until then we've been paying both with time and money to keep it afloat (along with generous sponsors). Lately I have been dealing with SARS and banks per requirements of filing as we are an NPO. I have to constantly repeat myself that the figure I'm naming is not my monthly income but YEAR.

    So there we are, 2013 SSDA ate about 6 months worth of our time. 500 hundred pounds is more than we received to cover personal expenses (ink, paper, internet, phone calls...) and time. In order to do any writing of our own, we basically live a 7 day a week worklife - which is not unusual for freelance, I admit. Meanwhile, having talked to publishers for various reasons, the number of publishers willing to publish short story collections is rapidly shrinking. The number of mags and online zines willing to spend the time it takes to produce stories to Caine standards is thin. Thus, while I don't care about being famous or being quoted in the paper - SSDA can not survive year after year like this. This is despite the lovely and generous people (so! many! wonderful! people!) paying for the editors and other costs. A mention in the BBC, The Guardian - this could help attract funders and people wanting, at the very least, to purchase the anthology.

    Nonetheless, I am incredibly excited about the win and the double nomination. It has been a growing experience for myself. I've done things I never would have dreamed I can do. Both anthologies are beautiful and I've met some wonderful people - artists, writers and simply those passionate about literacy. The Caine win will give an incredibly talented writer a chance to really shine - which was our hope when creating SSDA. So in that sense, we have done everything we set out to do. Which one can't always say when it comes to goals, no matter how many hours you put in. In that, this whole experience is one big win.

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  • <a href="http://tiahbeautement.typepad.com/quotidian/" rel="nofollow">tiah</a>
    tiah
    July 16th, 2014 @09:33 #
     
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    Sorry, the press mentions the story - My Father's Head - simply not where it came from. Edit..edit...edit...

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  • <a href="http://rachelzadok.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rachel Zadok</a>
    Rachel Zadok
    July 16th, 2014 @10:51 #
     
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    Sorry to butt in, Tiah, but SSDA wasn't created in the hope that it would give one talented writer the chance to really shine. It was created as a platform for African writers to showcase their work and tell stories without the influence of a Western publishing model that already had an idea of what African writing should be. The fact that two stories we published in keeping with this idea were shortlisted for Caine is a step in the right direction of achieving that goal.

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  • <a href="http://rachelzadok.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rachel Zadok</a>
    Rachel Zadok
    July 16th, 2014 @11:02 #
     
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    Also, we worked from April 2013 through Jan 2014 non-stop on SSDA last year, then began again in March 2014. Hardly six months!

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  • <a href="http://rachelzadok.bookslive.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rachel Zadok</a>
    Rachel Zadok
    July 16th, 2014 @11:32 #
     
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    And that all sounds like I'm shouting at Tiah. I'm not. I never shout at Tiah. She knows martial arts.

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  • <a href="http://tiahbeautement.typepad.com/quotidian/" rel="nofollow">tiah</a>
    tiah
    July 16th, 2014 @12:32 #
     
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    I agree that our goal is about more than a single writer. We have a lot of goals. And my comment was already an essay. So I do agree with you that our goal is more than I stated. But the winner - and giving her a chance to shine - is a part of the over all goals.

    As to time...time is such a fluid stretchy thing. It is true that the FB page and such for SSDA is something I do every.single.day. Except that holiday I just took where the only 'work' I had to do was reply to entries, 'Got it! Kind regards, -t' and then forward any panics to you. It was my first break-break of such nature in over two years. And to do that, I had to do extra and set it all up on a timer. And then I came back and was doing 'work' well into each night. (Okay, you know this. But other than my husband - the rest of the world doesn't / didn't.)

    So yes, I agree with your time line. I was speaking of a standard work week if I worked in an office outside my house. So if I compressed the year - this many hours on this day, this many hours in a week - more doing x month, less on that month...it works out to about 6 months of a normal person's 'have a job that requires some overtime'. But no, it isn't done in a six month period. It is stretched out across a year. Maybe it is more than six months worth...but if I start thinking like that I might become unhappy. And I love SSDA so...denial can be a wonderfully useful tool at times. ;)

    But I haven't forgotten to pick up a kid yet and nor forgotten to feed anybody or a pet. I have a book coming out in August and ...it works. I get to work from home, create something with my words and time, while also having a chance to watch African writing blossom - from the minds of 6 year olds to 66+. That is something special. Not that it justifies having my time or yours financially undervalued. That isn't okay. But I've cleaned toilets, pumped petrol, mowed lawns and worked where I've done nothing more than photocopy for seven and a half hours straight, day in and day out. I've worked in sales and made good money for other people just so I could eat. This is better. And I'm remarkably grateful that my current life circumstances allow me to keep going forward with this, rather than have to quit to go back to pumping petrol - even if that paid vastly better. (And if anybody thinks I'm joking, I did file taxes for those petrol pumping years.)

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  • Maire
    Maire
    July 16th, 2014 @23:31 #
     
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    Congrats (huge) to all of you involved in getting the anthology compiled and out there. I can see where you're coming from re acknowledgment though - this collection wasn't simply magicked out of thin air.

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