Ogamba Frances’s short story My Husband’s Wife was announced the English language winner of the Kalahari Short Story Prize 2020 today, December 1, 2020. Second and third place went to Howard M-B Maximus and Muhumuza Charles respectively.
In May, La Cene Littéraire, famous for the Prix Les Afriques, unveiled the Kalahari Short Story Competition for writers producing work in Kiswahili, French, or English who have not written a full-length novel. The prize was to be judged by Neema Mturo, Lello Mmasy, and Elias Mutani in Kiswahili; Armand Gauz, Hélène Tissières, Aurore Foukissa, Philippe Bonvin, Astrid Aïdolan-Ague and Flora Agnes Nda Zoa in French; and Elnathan John, Caoilinn Hughes, and May-Ian Tan in English.
The English section of the competition received 286 stories from 49 countries and from these, the judges announced the winners today. They are;
My Husband’s Wife by Ogamba Frances (Port Harcourt, Nigeria)
A quietly devastating work that realizes its ambitions with impeccable grace while feeling completely organic. Seemingly without exposition, the writer establishes the characters, setting, and cultural mores, and, through the cadence of the language, subtly evokes the story’s emotional climate and constellation. I was captivated by the serene precision of the writing, its strong, steady pulse, and the many layers moving beneath its surface. –
“My Husband’s Wife” introduces an arresting, humorous and incisive voice from the first sentence and maintains it to the last. A timeless, deeply compelling story, teeming with perfectly observed details. The narrative carries the reader confidentially along as though we were strapped to the speaker’s chest.
From the first fertile paragraph, My Husband’s Wife skillfully situates using the lush and fecund world which is the protagonist’s percipient mind. The story, simple but by no means simplistic, takes us on an intimate journey of loss and love and the heaviness of betrayal.
A Mother’s Face Is An Atlas That Leads You Home by Howard M-B Maximus (Buea, Cameroon)
In this story about two teenagers secretly plotting to move to the United States, the immigrant dream is superimposed onto the transition into adulthood. As they prepare to leave their homeland, the boys are forced to choose between the need to individuate and the desire to maintain fealty to their loved ones. As they cross boundaries and chart new territory, customary rites of passage become indistinguishable from scorched earth transgressions. This story is funny and heartbreaking, and its confident, kinetic voice had me gripped from the start.
This story’s voice is pitch-perfect: propulsive, authentic, energetic, and aspirational. The story’s scope is bravado as its narrator; compressing what could well be a picaresque novella into just 3,300 words. The characterization is very compelling, suggesting a creative energy that promises fine work.
Confident and unruly, this short story swashbuckles its way through this often humorous narrative with sprightly language. Through its rich characterization, the protagonist plotting to leave his home country, comes alive, and with him his angst, his desires, and his dreams.
The Machine by Muhumuza Charles (Kampala, Uganda).
This affecting and memorable story about a village being slowly consumed by modernization is narrated from the collective perspective of the boys in the community. The first-person plural voice gives the piece a haunting, choral resonance, and it helps us to understand how connected these boys are to each other and to the communal well and stream that interlace every aspect of their lives and facilitate their friendships and relationships. Their bodies and the bodies of water are locked together like parts of a machine that is gradually dissembled and usurped by the monstrous presence of the water pipeline.
A beautifully controlled with wonderfully placed detail, ‘The Machine ’is an allegorical story that plays into and adapts the archetypal story about technology forcefully introduced to rural communities and gravely interfering with the balance and rhythms of those communities. The voice has a certain mechanistic, historiographical quality that is an unexpected and effective choice.
Through this well-paced narrative, the apt metaphor of the machine — the slow insidious incursion of technology and development touted as advancement into the lives of people with often disastrous effects — skillfully makes us question the legacy of modern inventions. Through its poignant and poetic language, The Machine lays bare the challenges facing those who seek to dismantle the monsters of modernity.
The prize will be handed out in a ceremony on December 5, 2020.