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The Guardian to 2015 Caine Prize Shortlistees: “What Does it Mean to be an African Writer?”

The five authors shortlisted for the 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing – South Africans Masande Ntshanga and FT Kola, Nigerians Segun Afolabi and Elnathan John, and Zambian Namwali Serpell – all took part in the 2015 Africa Writes Festival in London this past weekend.

In addition to that, and as part of a special build-up to tonight’s announcement of the winner of the esteemed title and £10,000 prize, they took part in a live Q&A on The Guardian centred around the theme, “What does it mean to be an African writer?”

One contributor to the conversation, MrTibs, asked each author a specific question about their individual stories, the only contribution that had directly to do with the reason they were all gathered – their short stories.

Other questions varied with some eliciting interesting, insightful answers while others merely revealed the flaws in the western way of viewing African literature as an entity as opposed to individual bodies of work produced by individual countries.

Here are some of the more interesting questions asked during the Q&A:

  • How do you feel about the level of status the Caine Prize occupies in western conversations about African lit?
  • Are there typical regional differences in style, form and/or content across the continent?
  • Why do you think you are being treated as political spokespeople for your entire continent? Does this say something about the multiple responsibilities thrust upon African writers, or just about the readership of the Guardian? What topics would you prefer to be considered a spokesperson for?
  • What would you say is the ratio of questions you get about “African writing” or being an “African writer” to the number of questions you get about your own, individual writing? Or just about being a writer, full-stop? And what, in your opinion, could a publication like The Guardian have done to correct this disparity?
  • Is it possible to write a great African novel that ignores issues of race/colonialism? Do you think such a novel would find it harder to achieve international popularity/acclaim?
  • Do the national curriculums in your countries include the reading of your works in school? And if so, do you think that your writing sparks debates?
  • Do you believe your books will be an inspiration for change in your own respective countries? Or are you happy with the current status quo and would your books reflect either of these spectrum’s if I chose to pick one up?
  • Is now the appropriate time for famous African authors to take a stand? How many books has each of the panel written to date that seeking to point out the path of reason? How many more such do they plan to write?

Think African literature and who springs to mind? Chinua Achebe, “the father of modern African literature”? Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the writer whose voice was famously sampled in Beyoncé’s Flawless and recently sparked nationwide discussion on sexism in Nigeria.

But who else? Despite the talent of and calibre of African writers, most struggle to get the international recognition they deserve. The Caine Prize, now in its 16th year, seeks to remedy this with an annual celebration of the continent’s best writers.

Focused on short-stories the accolade has been awarded to some of the most prominent names from the continent today, including Kenya’s Binyavanga Wainaina, Sierra Leone’s Olufemi Terry and Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo.

But why do African writers struggle to get noticed? Is the “African literature” grouping a help or hindrance? What, if anything, links these writers together? Is there really such as “African literature”?

We’ve asked the five shortlisted writers from this year’s Caine prize – Segun Afolabi, Elnathan John, FT Kola, Masande Ntshanga and Namwali Serpell – to join our panel to discuss these questions; offer tips for budding writers and talk about their work.

The Q&A, as well as the Africa Writes Festival, drew quite a significant amount of people on Twitter. See tweets using the hashtag #AfricaWrites:

The ReactiveTwenty in 20A Life ElsewhereThe Gonjon Pin and Other StoriesFeast, Famine and PotluckAfrica39

Related links:

Book details

  • Twenty in 20: The Best Short Stories of South Africa’s 20 Years of Democracy by , , , , , edited by Mandla Langa
    EAN: 9781928216421
    Find this book with BOOK Finder!

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