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Chigozie Obioma Wins the Inaugural FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Fiction Award for The Fishermen

Chigozie Obioma

 
The FishermenAlert! Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma has won a 2015 FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Award for his debut novel The Fishermen.

The FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Awards were launched this year by the Financial Times and OppenheimerFunds to “identify and reward talent among multiple countries and regions in the developing world”. This year, the awards recognised artists from Latin America and the Caribbean, filmmakers from Asia-Pacific and writers from Africa and the Middle East. The winners were Obioma, Yuhang Ho of Malaysia for his film Trespassed, and artist Cristina Planas of Peru.

“I’m very honoured to be here and to be named the winner – are you serious? Are you sure it’s not a mistake?” Obioma joked in an interview with the Financial Times’ Michael Skapinker after the ceremony.

The Fishermen is the story of the close relationship of four young brothers, who defy their authoritarian father by fishing in the Omi-Ala, a once-sacred but now polluted river. The brothers encounter a madman who prophesies that one of them will be killed by a fisherman, and the condemned boy becomes convinced that one of his brothers will be responsible.

Obioma says the inspiration for the book was the loneliness he felt while he was studying in Cyprus, away from his family for the first time.

“Cyprus is very far from Nigeria,” he says. “I come from a family of 12 children, and I have seven brothers. When we were growing up, I didn’t have any friends, because we were so complete that there was no need to have a friend. So when I uprooted myself to another country I was missing them so much, and I wanted to write a tribute.”

Obioma adds that he believes the FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Awards reignited interest in the book.

“This award means a lot, and I hope that it will bring a lot of readers to the book,” he says. “It was published in the UK in February, and in the US in April, and reviews had run their course and no one was talking about it until you propped it up, so I hope this will give it new life.”

The FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Fiction Prize was open to work published in English by writers from Africa and the Middle East this year, and nine of the 10 authors featured in the fiction longlist were from Africa, including South Africans Mandla Langa and Ingrid Winterbach.

Our Lady of the NileDust

 
The three finalists were Obioma – who was also shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize recently – Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, for Dust, and Scholastique Mukasonga, for Our Lady of the Nile.
 

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Watch a video featuring all of the winners:

 

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Read the Financial Times report on the winners:

Resident in the US since 2012, Obioma graduated with a masters in creative writing from the University of Michigan then took up a teaching role in Nebraska, which started in August. But if there is justice in the criticism that such programmes impose a slick uniformity on the variegated material of fiction, it is clear that Obioma’s own students will not be encouraged to suppress their individual voices in pursuit of some pared-back, minimalist ideal. “I love to read sentences and be wowed by them,” he says. “So why is everyone writing according to the dictum ‘less is more’?”
Not quite everyone, on the evidence of The Fishermen — and if the judges of this award are any guide, the case against less has been well made.

 

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