Matthew Willsher (Etisalat Nigeria) presents the prize to NoViolet Bulawayo.
Matthew Willsher (Etisalat Nigeria) presents the prize to NoViolet Bulawayo.

Zimbabwean writer Noviolet Bulawayo is the winner of the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Africa Literature in a ceremony in Lagos, Nigeria last night.

This has been a long journey to recognize the best African writer on the African continent in the last one year. The process had gone through a rigorous process starting with a long list followed by a short list a job I didn’t envy the judges led by Wits Literature Prof Pumla Gqola with Billy Kahora and Sarah Ladipo Manyika.

So yesterday starting at 4pm Naija time (6pm Kenyan, 5pm GMT) there was a huge crowd at the Freedom Park in Lagos to witness the newest African literary star being unveiled. The rest of the continent (including this blogger) had to follow proceedings online. The best twitter feed to follow this event had to have been Tolu Ogunlesi a Lagos based blogger, columnist and editor.

The event had musical entertainment from the likes of Omawumi Megbele (Kenyans will remember here as the lady singing about how Malaria kills babies and how Mortein will end it all) as well as the Senegalese minister for culture a fellow popularly known as Youssou N’dour.

Apart from the singing there was literature stuff too (seeing as it was a literature gig) with the writers reading from their works and discussing them with Ellah Allfrey.

With it having ended we were all introduced to the newest literature star from Africa: Noviolet Bulawayo for her book We Need New Names.  The book talks about a young girl who moves from Zimbabwe and emigrates to the USA and the wonderful adventures she see as she goes about living her life.

It’s not the first time that the Zimbabwe born US based writer is on a podium. In 2011, she went home with the Caine Prize for African literature for her story “Hitting Budapest.” Since then, she found herself on another podium as the first miro woman nominated for the Man Booker Prize which unfortunately she didn’t win. This new prize will go a long way to wiping the tears from not winning the older more prestigious one with the 15,000 UK pounds prize money (around Khs1.8 million) as well as other goodies.

The other big winners of the night are Yewande Omotoso and Modjaji books. The book Bom Boy is brilliant but it was amazing that a small publisher and (relatively) unknown writer could considered for a prize this big with the buzz for many (on my timeline) for the newcomer. This might be instructive for the Etisalat in future as it might end up being the African Nations Cup of African literature. Not so much as a federation that is always at odds with the European clubs because the tournament is hosted right in the middle of the that continent’s football season. I see it more as one of those places where it doesn’t matter how well regarded by the outside world; if you are visiting with your big name, you can and will be embarrassed by a hungrier local.

Disclaimer: Many aspects of the reportage on this blog have been picked from googling like crazy as I was following the events from another country.