The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2018 shortlist was announced by its advisory board on September 9, 2018. The texts in the running for the continent’s richest literary prize are Embers by Soji Cole, Death and The King’s Grey Hair by Denja Abdullahi and The Rally by Akanji Nasiru.
The Nigeria Prize for Literature is the richest prize in African literature worth US$100,000 to the winner. The prize which was founded in 2004 to honour literary erudition by Nigerian authors rotates among four genres fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature. The winners over the last few years have been Ikeogu Oke for poetry (2017), Abubakar Adam Ibrahim for prose (2016), Sam Ukala for drama (2014), Tade Ipadeola for poetry (2013), and Chika Unigwe for prose (2012).
This year, the prize would be for drama and literary criticism and the callout for the work in these categories was made with a March deadline. The work would be judged by a panel of judges chaired by professor of Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan Matthew Umukoro. Other members of the panel would include Mohammed Inuwa Umar – Buratai a professor of Theatre and Performing Arts and the Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the Ahmadu Bello University, (ABU), Zaria; and Ngozi Udengwu, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Theatre and Film Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
From the 89 plays that were submitted, the panel announced a longlist of eleven of some of the best drama writing coming out of the West African country in July. Today those in the running for the prize were announced and they are Embers by Soji Cole, Death and The King’s Grey Hair by Denja Abdullahi and The Rally by Akanji Nasiru.
Embers, by Soji Cole, focuses on life in one of the Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) Camps in Northern Nigeria. The characters gave testimonies of their ugly encounters in Sambisa Forest, as well as their painful discovery of life in the IDP Camp. A member of the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ibadan, Soji Cole teaches undergraduates play writing at the Department of Theatre Arts.
In Death and The King’s Grey Hair, Denja Abdullahi, a literary essayist and National President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA), confronts the issue of perpetuation in power, where rulers, like the king in this drama, employ all sorts of devices to cling on to power, long after they have overstayed their welcome.
Akanji Nasiru’s The Rally, addresses the contemporary political theme of youth versus age. Nasiru is a professor of Performing Arts, Bowen University, Iwo, Osun State.
The judges expressed their delight at the high standard of writing evident in the entries for the competition this year. Prof. Umukoro said all three plays have high literary qualities of effective dialogue, good dramaturgical structure, skilful handling of suspense, and credible characterisation, which have seen them through to this stage of the competition.
A winner will be announced at a public presentation in October.