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Andrew McMillan Becomes the First Poet to Win the 2015 Guardian First Book Award

Andrew McMillan Becomes the First Poet to Win the 2015 Guardian First Book Award

PhysicalAlert! The 2015 Guardian First Book Award has been won by Andrew McMillan, for his collection of poems, Physical.

Only two poets have ever made the shortlist for the £10 000 (about R215 000) prize in its 17-year history, and McMillan becomes the first poet to win it.

In the announcement, The Guardian calls Physical an “elegantly poised and intimate collection of poems”, and books editor Claire Armitstead said:

“It’s a thrilling development for us as poetry so rarely breaks through in generalist prizes,” she said. She cited Percy Bysshe Shelley’s 1821 Defence of Poetry, in which he argued that “poetry enlarges the circumference of the imagination by replenishing it with thoughts of ever new delight”. Shelley’s assertion that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world” might seem “a bit optimistic in our prosaic times”, Armitstead said, “but Andrew McMillan’s breathtaking collection shows that good poetry can and does still enlarge, replenish and delight”.

“It is wonderful that a collection so tightly focused on masculinity and gay love could have such a wide appeal, across age and gender,” she continued. “It surprised us all with the best sort of ambush, emerging from an extremely strong and vibrant shortlist as the unanimously agreed winner.”

McMillan is the son of Ian McMillan, one of the United Kingdom’s best known contemporary poets, although The Guardian points out that this is a connection he “kept quiet about”, apart from dedicating the book to his parents.

Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen was also nominated for the prize, one of many award lists the Nigerian author’s debut novel has appeared on.

Obioma won the inaugural FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Fiction Award for last month and was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize and the 2015 Centre For Fiction First Novel Prize, among others. The Man Booker went to Marlon James in the end, while the Centre for Fiction winner will be announced on 8 December this year.

The 2015 Guardian First Book Award shortlist was:

Man V. NaturePhysicalThe FishermenNothing Is True and Everything Is PossibleGrief is the Thing with FeathersThe Shore


  • Physical by Andrew McMillan (Jonathan Cape)
  • The Shore by Sara Taylor (William Heinemann)

The McMillans junior and senior tweeted their delight:

Watch a video of McMillan reading his work:

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Don't Miss the Badilisha Poetry X-Change Pan-African Event at The Beautiful Life Building in Cape Town

Invitation to Badilisha Poetry X-Change Pan-African Event

If I Could Sing: Selected PoemsThe Badilisha Poetry X-change is holding a poetry event to celebrate the end of their Badilisha Road Trip through Africa, which is dedicated to meeting and recording the work of poets.

The Pan-African event will feature a number of award-winning poets, including our Poet Laureate Keorapatse Willie Kgositsile and TJ Dema. There will be voices from South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, Ethiopia and more.

The event will take place on Friday, 4 December, from 7 PM at the Beautiful Life Building.

See you there!

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The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma Up for the 2015 Guardian First Book Award - Winner Announced Tonight

Chigozie Obioma

2015 has been a big year for Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma, with his “truly magnificent” debut novel being nominated for various big awards and included on a vast amount of “best of” lists.

The latest news regarding The Fishermen is that it has been shortlisted for the prestigious Guardian First Book Award, coming up against five other debut publications for the £10 000 (about R213 000) prize.

Obioma won the inaugural FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Fiction Award for last month and was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize and the 2015 Centre For Fiction First Novel Prize, among others. The Man Booker went to Marlon James in the end, while the Centre for Fiction winner will be announced on 8 December this year.

Here’s the shortlist for the 2015 Guardian First Book Award in full:

Man V. NaturePhysicalThe FishermenNothing Is True and Everything Is PossibleGrief is the Thing with FeathersThe Shore


  • Physical by Andrew McMillan (Jonathan Cape)
  • The Shore by Sara Taylor (William Heinemann)

The winner will be announced tonight and, naturally, we are holding thumbs for Obioma!

Related links:

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The Guardian featured short extracts and introductions by the the authors to all the shortlisted works. Read what Obioma writes in and about The Fishermen:

Recently, I stumbled on a line in The Fishermen that seemed to have come directly out of memory rather than from the pages of the book: “Did you do this to your blood brother?” I could recall instances where, as a child, when something happened between my siblings and me, that same question was asked with a kind of urgency that lent unarguable potency to the idea that your brother or sister was so special and somewhat indispensable that to hurt him or her was to hurt oneself. The Fishermen is an exploration of this kind of tie, and what it is that can snap it, or destroy it.

I grew up with many siblings, and always knew that one day I would write a story about the experience. But, strangely, this novel is not about my experience, but was merely inspired by it. When they were children, two of my older brothers had the kind of sibling rivalry that ignited little fires of violence. But when I learned that, as men aged almost 30, they had become very close, I began to ponder on what can rip families apart, especially close-knit ones. At around the same time, I had been reading a book in which I had encountered a phrase that stuck out to me: “A great civilisation is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.” So, I thought, can this be applied to just about any entity, such as a family?

Catherine Flood reflected on the process of narrowing down the list to come up with the finalists for the 2015 Guardian First Book Award:

There is something wonderfully expectant about a prize for a first book, particularly one that welcomes first-time writers regardless of genre, category, form or language.

The varied rollcall of past recipients (Yiyun Li, Jonathan Safran Foer, Petina Gappah, Zadie Smith, Dinaw Mengestu among them), and the Guardian first book award’s international status, makes the reading journey more of a quest than – as some book awards seem to be – a standard nod to likely candidates.

Alison Flood wrote a reflection on the shortlist. Read her article:

Announcing the shortlist, Guardian books editor Claire Armitstead said that McMillan’s poems had “totally disarmed” her. “As a middle-aged, heterosexual woman, I’d assumed they wouldn’t be for me, but I found them tender and sexy and entirely relatable,” said Armitstead. “They carried me straight back to my teenage infatuation with the work of Thom Gunn, another gay poet, who is one of McMillan’s touchstones for Physical.”

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Join Toast Coetzer, Erns Grundling and a Host of Writers for the Launch of Ons Klyntji 2015 at The Book Lounge

Invitation to the launch of Ons Klyntji 2015

Ons KlynjiThe Book Lounge and the team behind Ons Klyntji would like to invite you to the launch of the 2015 edition of “the first ever Afrikaans magazine”.

Ons Klyntji was established in 1896, resurrected in the 1990s, and is currently edited by Toast Coetzer and Erns Grundling. It comes out once a year, and features left of centre poetry, short fiction and non-fiction in both English and Afrikaans as well as photography and graphic art.

The event will take place at The Book Lounge on Thursday, 3 December, at 5:30 for 6 PM. There will be readings by Coetzer and Grundling, as well as Danie Marais, Rosa Lyster, Le Roux Schoeman, Nick Mulgrew, Churchhil Naudé, Sindi Busuku-Mathese, Hanru Niemand, Alice Inggs, Mick Raubenheimer, James Honnibal, Andries de Beer, Louis Roux, Luan Serfontein, Liebet Jooste and more.

Don’t miss it!

Event Details

  • Date: Thursday, 3 December 2015
  • Time: 5:30 for 6 PM
  • Venue: The Book Lounge
    71 Roeland Street
    Cape Town | Map
  • Refreshments: Come and join us for a glass of wine
  • RSVP:, 021 462 2425

Check out these books featuring writing by Ons Klyntji contributors:

South AfricaNaweekPruimtwak en skaduboksersAdults OnlyThe Sol Plaatje European Union Poetry Anthology

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A Renewed Interest in Literature from Africa: Trailblazer Cassava Republic Press to Launch in the United Kingdom


Leading African publishing house Cassava Republic Press has announced that it will be launching in the United Kingdom, in order to “spotlight the vibrancy and diversity of prose by African writers on the continent and in the diaspora”.

Cassava is planning to kick off operations in the UK in April 2016, with a launch list that includes Elnathan John’s Born on a Tuesday, Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun, Leye Adenle’s Easy Motion Tourist, HJ Golakai’s The Lazarus Effect and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim’s Season of Crimson Blossoms.

It’s a prestigious list. John has been shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African writing twice, Manyika was the chair of judges for the 2014 Etisalat Prize for Literature, while Ibrahim was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2013, and currently serves as a judge for the Short Story Day Africa competition.

The internationally acclaimed The Lazarus Effect was longlisted for the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature, and shortlisted for both the Sunday Times Fiction Prize and the University of Johannesburg Debut Prize. Golakai’s new novel, The Score, was recently released in South Africa (read an excerpt).

Cassava Republic Press has its headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria, although founder Bibi Bakare-Yusuf is now based in London. Bakare-Yusuf will be joined by Emma Shercliff, formerly MD of Macmillan English Campus and head of export sales at Hodder Education.

“It is exciting to be launching Cassava Republic Press in the UK both as an intervention and as an opportunity to introduce the diversity of writings coming out of the continent,” Bibi Bakare-Yusuf (above) said in a press statement. “What we are doing is unprecedented: an African publishing house establishing a base in the UK after nearly 10 years in Africa rather than the reverse. This is the birthing of African publishing onto the world stage.”

Shercliff adds: “Having worked with Cassava Republic in Abuja for almost two years, I am delighted to be starting this new venture with Bibi in London.

“The feedback we have already received from the UK trade has been fantastic; there is a renewed interest in literature from Africa and we feel particularly excited about introducing some very special authors who are already celebrated in Africa, but practically unknown in the UK, to a wider audience.”

In partnership with the British Council as part of their UK/Nigeria 2015-16 programme, Cassava Republic Press will showcase the breadth of talent on the list across UK literature festivals next April. Today’s announcement coincides with a BBC Radio 4 special on the Nigerian literary scene, entitled ‘Writing a New Nigeria’, to be broadcast at 11.30am on Thursday 26th November and Thursday 3rd December, featuring publishers Bibi Bakare-Yusuf and Emma Shercliff and Cassava Republic Press authors Elnathan John, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and Toni Kan.

As Chad Felix of Melville House says, “The stage is set.”

In the nine years since the founding of Cassava Republic, the house has curated an impressive list, which includes authors Teju Cole, Man Booker Prize-nominee Chigozie Obioma (The Fisherman), Mukoma wa Ngugi (whose Nairobi Heat and Black Star Nairobi were published by Melville House in 2011 and 2013 respectively), and Caine Prize-nominee Elnathan John (Born on a Tuesday). In addition to literary and crime fiction, the house also publishes a variety of non-fiction and children’s titles.


In a video published two years ago, Bakare-Yusuf explains why she started Cassava Republic Press, and what her plans are:

“When I moved to Nigeria as an academic, there were all these interesting African writers being published abroad, and they’re not available locally – no one’s heard of them,” she says. “So I decided, ‘okay, I’m going to start a publishing company’. Cassava Republic Press. I knew nothing, nothing nothing nothing, about publishing! I knew everything about reading and writing, but nothing about the business of publishing.

“150 million people. 77 million of them young people under 30. How do we get those people reading? Those are the people I’m actually interested in converting. We want to convert minds. We want to convert them to question who they are, and also question society.”

Watch the video:

Cassava Republic Press from jolyon hoff on Vimeo.

Related stories:

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Bibi Bakare-Yusuf photo courtesy of Vimeo

French Translation Deal for Karen Jennings' Novel Finding Soutbek

Karen Jennings
Finding SoutbekAway from the DeadFeast, Famine and Potluck

Alert! Holland Park Press have announced a French publishing deal for Karen Jennings’ novel Finding Soutbek.

Les éditions de l’Aube will produce the French language version of the novel, which was shortlisted for the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature.

Finding Soutbek, which was first published in June 2012, will be translated by Benoîte Dauvergne. The French version is set to be published in August 2016.

Publisher Bernadette Jansen op de Haar says: “It’s lovely to see Finding Soutbek, which arrived as an unsolicited manuscript in my inbox, going from strength to strength with this forthcoming French translation.

“It has been a pleasure to deal with Manon Viard from Les éditions de l’Aube about contractual issues and I’m looking forward to working with her in the future.”

Jennings is the winner of the 2009 Maskew Miller Longman Literature Award and was longlisted for the 2015 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. She edited the first Short Story Day Africa anthology, Feast, Famine and Potluck, in 2013. Her most recent book is a short story collection, Away from the Dead (Holland Park Press, September 2014).

It was announced yesterday that Jennings has made the shortlist for the 2015 Morland Writing Scholarships, along with six other South Africans.

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