Kenyan writer Makena Onjerika is the Caine Prize for African Writing 2018 winner for her short story Fanta Blackcurrant, published in Wasafiri (2017). The ceremony was held for the second time in Senate House, in partnership with SOAS and the Centre for African Studies in the UK.
The Caine Prize, awarded annually for African creative writing, is named after the late Sir Michael Caine, former Chairman of Booker plc and Chairman of the Booker Prize management committee for nearly 25 years. The Prize is awarded for a short story by an African writer published in English (indicative length 3,000 to 10,000 words). Previous winners are Leila Aboulela (2000), Helon Habila (2001), Binyavanga Wainaina (2002), Yvonne Owuor (2003), Brian Chikwava (2004), Segun Afolabi (2005), Mary Watson (2006), Monica Arac de Nyeko (2007), Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008), Osondu (2009), Olufemi Terry (2010), NoViolet Bulawayo (2011), Rotimi Babatunde (2012), Tope Folarin (2013), Okwiri Oduor (2014), Namwali Serpell (2015), Lidudumalingani Mqobothi (2016), and Bushra al-Fadil (2017).
Narrated in the first person plural, Fanta Blackcurrant follows Meri, a street child of Nairobi, who makes a living using her natural intelligence and charisma, but wants nothing more than ‘a big Fanta Blackcurrant for her to drink every day and it never finish”. While it seems Meri’s natural wit may enable her to escape the streets, days follow days and years follow years, and having turned to the sex trade, she finds herself pregnant. Her success stealing from Nairobi’s business women attracts the attention of local criminals, who beat her and leave her for dead. After a long recovery, Meri ‘crossed the river and then we do not know where she went’.
Dinaw Mengestu while making the winner announcement praised the story in his remarks, saying, “the winner of this year’s Caine Prize is as fierce as they come – a narrative forged but not defined by the streets of Nairobi, a story that stands as more than just witness. Makena Onjerika’s Fanta Blackcurrant presides over a grammar and architecture of its own making, one that eschews any trace of sentimentality in favour of a narrative that is haunting in its humour, sorrow and intimacy”.
The panel of judges was chaired by Dinaw Mengestu – a graduate of Georgetown University and of Columbia University’s MFA programme in fiction. In 2007 the National Book Foundation named him a “5 under 35” honouree, and in 2012 he was selected as a MacArthur Fellow. Dinaw has written four novels: The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears (2007); Children of the Revolution (2007); How to Read the Air (2010); and All Our Names (2014). Alongside Dinaw on the panel of judges are: Henrietta Rose-Innes, South African author and winner of the 2008 Caine Prize; Lola Shoneyin, award winning author and Director of the Ake Arts and Books Festival; and Ahmed Rajab, a Zanzibar-born international journalist, political analyst and essayist.
As in previous years, the winner of the Caine Prize will be given an opportunity to take up residence at Georgetown University at the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice. The winner is invited to take part in the Open Book Festival in Cape Town, Storymoja in Nairobi, Ake Festival in Abeokuta, Nigeria, and the Library of Congress in the USA.
The Caine Prize is supported by The Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, The Miles Morland Foundation, The Carnegie Corporation, the Booker Prize Foundation, The Sigrid Rausing Trust, the Royal Over-Seas League and John and Judy Niepold. Other funders and partners include, The British Council, Georgetown University (USA), The Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice, The van Agtmael Family Charitable Fund, Rupert and Clare McCammon, Adam and Victoria Freudenheim, Arindam Bhattacherjee, Phillip Ihenacho and other generous donors.