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Binyavanga Wainaina’s Twitter Outburst: “Dear Caine Prize, U Made Nothing, Produced Nothing, Distributed Nothing”


Binyavanga Wainaina took to Twitter this weekend, and this morning, to bash the Caine Prize, again, saying African writers should be asking more questions about the sponsorship of awards.

“Do you all remember that the literary magazines like Transition that pubished Ngugi, bessie head, Soyinka were sponsored by CIA?” he tweeted (sic).

One Day I Will Write About This PlaceThe Gonjon Pin and Other StoriesAmericanahAfrican Violet

The Kenyan author hit the headlines in early September, when he criticised the Caine Prize in an interview with This Is Africa, saying: “I am going to take this first to another road because I think all you Nigerian literati are way too addicted to the Caine Prize. I give the Caine Prize its due credit, but it just isn’t our institution.”

It was not the first time the “African Booker” has come under fire from writers who consider it too big for its boots. Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who was shortlisted for the Caine Prize the year Wainaina won it, 2002, caused an uproar in July last year, when she told Slate that she considers it “over-privileged”:

[...] what’s all this over-privileging of the Caine Prize, anyway? I don’t want to talk about the Caine Prize, really. I suppose it’s a good thing, but for me it’s not the arbiter of the best fiction in Africa. It’s never been. I know that Chinelo is on the short list, too. But I haven’t even read the stories—I’m just not very interested. I don’t go the Caine Prize to look for the best in African fiction.

AB: Where do you go?

CA: I go to my mailbox, where my workshop people send me their stories. I could give you a list of ten—mostly in Nigeria—writers who I think are very good. They’re not on the Caine Prize short list.

Wainaina revisited the topic on Friday in grand style, sending a flurry of tweets saying that the Caine Prize award money should not prevent winners from “asking questions” and calling out fellow writers Elnathan John, who was shortlisted for the prize in 2013, and Mehul Gohil, who took part in the Caine Prize workshop in 2012, as well as Caine Prize administer Lizzy Attree.

“It is a season of mad beautiful ideas, not safe career bum lickings,” Wainaina tweeted. “Our continent is ripe, dangerous and renegotiating everything, do not sell your literature for small scholarships.”

This morning Wainaina said his argument was not with the prize itself, but with the attention it gets from Africa, while local institutions with the same aims are given “no credit” by their literary community: “I have very little to say about the Caine prize. I have lots to say about what we have chosen to make of ourselves in it. It speaks loud.”

John responded to Wainaina’s goading by insinuating he had been “drinking”, and criticised “African professionals”:

Wainaina is no stranger to controversy this year. In the midst of a wave of anti-homosexual legislation across the continent, he decided to come out on his 43rd birthday in January, in a “lost chapter” from his memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place, entitled “I am a homosexual, Mum”. He was subsequently named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People.

Read Wainaina’s tweets:

Monday, 13 October:

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Image courtesy of Truth and Fiction


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