Somali author Diriye Osman has become the first African to win the Polari First Book Prize for his collection of short stories entitled Fairytales for Lost Children.
So who is this Osman? He is a Somali-British short story writer, essayist, critic and visual artist who insists that we write our own stories. His writing has also been seen in a number publications of including the Huffington Post.
He beat four other contenders for the 2014 prize; I Am Nobody’s Nigger by Dean Atta (Westbourne Press), Petite Mort by Beatrice Hitchman (Serpent’s Tail), God’s Other Children – A London Memoir by Vernal W. Scott (self-published) and The Rubbish Lesbian by Sarah Westwood (Mimwood Press)
You never heard of the Polaris Prize? Well it’s the prize for a first book which explores the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. In Kenya, LGBTI is popularly known as gayism.
The book Fairytales for Lost Children is narrated by people constantly on the verge of self-revelation. These characters – young, gay and lesbian Somalis – must navigate the complexities of family, identity and the immigrant experience as the tumble towards freedom. Set in Kenya, Somalia and South London, these stories are imbued with pathos, passion and linguistic playfulness, marking the arrival of a singular new voice in contemporary fiction.
“The crux of the book is about sexual identity,” he was heard telling a BBC reporter an his interview after he had won the award. He is a very brave man that Osman.
In a review by The Independent the reviewer describes him thus; “Osman is a courageous writer but he is also an original one. His language is peppered with Somali words and crafted with all the concision and riches of poetry.”
The Daily Telegraph on their part described the book thus; ‘East Africa. South London. Queer. Displaced. Mentally ill. My excitement over Osman and his writing comes, in part, out of delight at the impossibility of categorisation.’
Osman was presented with the winning cheque for £1,000 by Vincent Francois, Chair of the UK LGBT Network and Regional Head of Audit, Societe Generale, at the London Literature Festival.
Paul Burston, Chair of judges, said: ‘With such a strong shortlist, deciding on a winner was incredibly difficult. The Polari First Book Prize is about celebrating voices which are often ignored or difficult to hear. Writing as a black gay African man from a Muslim background, Osman dazzled us with the wide range of literary voices in this stunning short story collection. We look forward to his next book and feel confident that he will dazzle us again.’
African writers taking over baby.