Tope Folarin

Tope Folarin makes Caine Prize 2016 shortlist (We need new Caines)

Caine Prize winner 2013 Tope Folarin made the Caine Prize 2016 shortlist that was announced earlier today.

The Caine Prize shortlist 2016 was announced today and those who are in the running for this prize are;

  • Abdul Adan (Somalia/Kenya) for The Lifebloom Gift published in The Gonjon Pin and Other Stories: The Caine Prize for African Writing 2014 (New Internationalist, United Kingdom, 2014)
  • Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria) for What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky published in Catapult(Catapult, USA2015)
  • Tope Folarin (Nigeria) for Genesis published in Callaloo(Johns Hopkins University Press, USA, 2014)
  • Bongani Kona (Zimbabwe) for At Your Requiem published in Incredible Journey: Stories That Move You (Burnet Media, South Africa, 2015)
  • Lidudumalingani Mqombothi (South Africa) for Memories We Lost published in Incredible Journey: Stories That Move You(Burnet Media, South Africa, 2015)

The full panel of judges which selected these shortlisted stories were the Chair Delia Jarrett-Macauley as well as acclaimed film, television and theatre actor, Adjoa Andoh; founder of the Storymoja Festival, Muthoni Garland; associate professor and director of African American Studies at Georgetown University, Washington DC, Dr Robert J Patterson; and South African writer and 2006 Caine Prize winner, Mary Watson.

Speaking about the shortlist, Delia Jarrett-Macauley described it as, ‘an engrossing, well-crafted and dauntless pack of stories. The panel is proud to have shortlisted writers from across the continent, finding stories that are compelling, well-crafted and thought-provoking.’

The winner of the £10,000 prize will be announced at an award ceremony and dinner at the Weston Library, Bodleian Libraries, Oxford, on Monday 4 July. Each shortlisted writer will also receive £500. Each of these stories will be published in New Internationalist’s Caine Prize 2016 Anthology in July and through co-publishers across Africa, who receive a print-ready PDF free of charge from New Internationalist.

Looking through the list, one will see that those in the running include former regional winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize Lesley Nneka Arimah who won it last year.

The most noticeable of the shortlistees however is Nigerian Tope Folarin who won the Caine Prize in 2013 for his well-received story Miracle centered around a church in the Nigerian community in the USA. His shortlisted story this year, so soon after his win three years ago, has raised antennas across the literary community as it means that the Caine Prize might be shifting its focus. The Caine Prize for African literature has always been perceived as the one space where one could find the fresh new voice in African literature landscape. Thus unknown Leila Aboulela who won the first edition of the prize in 2000 went on to have an amazing career as a novelist. Chimamanda Adichie who was shortlisted and Binyavanga Wainaina who won in 2002 as unknowns are now leading lights in the African literary scene. In recent times, Noviolet Bulawayo who was unknown before 2011 won the Caine Prize in that year and her 2013 book We Need New Names has become a reference point for African writers of today.

Nkiacha Atemnkeng
Nkiacha Atemnkeng

While in previous years those winners and shortlistees have been shortlisted, this entry by Folarin could signal an end of that earlier ambition of exclusively shining a light new names. This view has been described extremely well by writer Nkiacha Atemnkeng in his blogpost, We Need New Caines, which incidentally plays on Bulawayo’s novel title. The Cameroonian writer, who has attended last year’s  Caine Prize workshop, warns about the lack of space for the new writers that the Caine Prize had prided itself for the last decade and a half. For many years this has been the one space where new writers would compete for the ultimate prize of best writer without having to compete with more accomplished elders.

‘Wasn’t it a delight discovering a 21 year old Efemia Chela on the shortlist in 2014? Yes, we need more Effies,’ he says of the Caine Prize 2014 shortlist as he shows the need for more new voices. That prize went on to be won by another relative unknown Okwiri Oduor.

The use of the ‘quality of writing’ being unavailable is a red herring as it means that anyone who has ever written but is in need of a 10,000 UK pound cash injection will be automatically entered for the prize. He says rightly,

‘Okay imagine that you look at the next Caine Prize shortlist and see Leila Abouleila, Helon Habila and Chimamanda Adichie all in there again. Jesus, that sir Michael Caine statue in London will just develop a scowl on his face. And if Wole Soyinka gets shortlisted in 2017, the stature will just explode because of anger. “What the hell is a Nobel Prize winner and Caine patron doing on my shortlist?”’

Without a doubt this isn’t the end of this discussion about the London, UK based prize. The judges’ decision is final and we shall be reading the stories to see the merits of the stories on their own.

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