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Kenya’s Okwiri Oduor wins £10,000 Caine Prize for African writing

Okwiri Oduor
Okwiri Oduor

Okwiri Oduor

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 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. “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 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.

Also shortlisted was another Kenyan Billy Kahora “The Gorilla’s Apprentice”, Diane Awerbuck (South Africa) “Phosphorescence” in Cabin Fever, Efemia Chela (Ghana/Zambia) “Chicken” in Feast, Famine and Potluck, Tendai Huchu (Zimbabwe) “The Intervention”

The panel of judges was chaired by award-winning author Jackie Kay MBE. Her novels have won a range of awards, including the Forward Prize, a Saltire prize, a Scottish Arts Council Prize and the Guardian Fiction Award. Her most recent collection of poems, Fiere, was shortlisted for the Costa award. Her most recent book, Reality Reality, is a collection of stories and she is currently working on her new novel, Bystander. She was awarded an MBE in 2006, made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2002 and is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Newcastle University.

She was joined by the distinguished novelist and playwright Gillian Slovo, Zimbabwean journalist Percy Zvomuya, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Georgetown Nicole Rizzuto and the winner of the Caine Prize in 2001 Helon Habila. This is the second time that a past winner of the £10,000 Caine Prize will take part in the judging.

Once again the winner of the Caine Prize will be given the opportunity to take up a month’s residence at Georgetown University, as a Writer-in-Residence at the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice. To mark the fifteenth anniversary of the Prize, each shortlisted writer will also receive £500. The winner will also be invited to take part in the Open Book Festival in Cape Town in September 2014, the Storymoja Hay Festival in Nairobi and the Ake Festival in Nigeria.

Last year the Caine Prize was won by Nigerian writer Tope Folarin. Tope is the recipient of writing fellowships from the Institute for Policy Studies and Callaloo, and he serves on the board of the Hurston/Wright Foundation. He lives and works in Washington, DC, is part of Africa39 and is working on his first novel The Proximity of Distance.

Previous winners are Sudan’s Leila Aboulela (2000), Nigerian Helon Habila (2001), Kenyan Binyavanga Wainaina (2002), Kenyan Yvonne Owuor (2003), Zimbabwean Brian Chikwava (2004), Nigerian Segun Afolabi (2005), South African Mary Watson (2006), Ugandan Monica Arac de Nyeko (2007), South African Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008), Nigerian EC Osondu (2009), Sierra Leonean Olufemi Terry (2010), Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo (2011), and Nigerian Tope Folarin (2013).

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