Zambian Writer ‘Namwali Serpell’ wins £10,000 Caine Prize.
Namwali Serpell has become Zambia’s first writer to win the prestigious Caine prize for African writing, for a short story described as “truly luminous” by judges.
The £10,000 award, which counts African winners of the Nobel prize for literature Wole Soyinka and JM Coetzee amongst its patrons, is for a short story by an African writer published in English. Namwali Serpell, an associate professor of English in the university of California, Berkley, won for The Sack (which can be downloaded as a PDF here). The story explores the power struggle between two men, one very ill, and the woman who came between them.
Serpell said her story was about two men who had known each other since childhood, how they have gone through “a long process of trying to build a political movement together, which failed, and in the process falling in love with the same woman, who died. It’s about trying to come to terms with that.”
Winning the prize, she said, didn’t seem real until she managed to tell her family in Zambia. “It was a real honor just to be on the shortlist,” she added.
Serpell’s story beat Nigerian writer and former Caine prize winner Segun Afolabi’s The Folded Leaf, Nigerian Elnathan John’s Flying and two South African stories: FT Kola’s A Party for the Colonel and Masande Ntshanga’s Space to win the prize.
The South African writer Zoe Wicomb, who chaired the judging panel, called it “formally innovative, stylistically stunning, haunting and enigmatic in its effects”, and an “extraordinary story about the aftermath of revolution with its liberatory promises shattered”.
Namwali Serpell, who was named one of the most promising writers for the Africa 39 Anthology, has had a story selected for the Best American Short Stories collection in the past, and was shortlisted for the 2010 Caine prize. Namwali Serpell published her first book of literary criticism, Seven Modes of Uncertainty, last year.
Namwali Serpell is currently working on a novel. “I’m pitching it as the great Zambian novel you didn’t know you wanted to read. It’s a sprawling multi-generational saga, which travels between many different countries,” she said.
Source: The Guardian