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South African Lidudumalingani wins 2016 Caine Prize

Filmmaker and writer Lidudumalingani has won the 2016 Caine Prize which was announced on July 4 at Oxford, UK with his story Memories We Lost. The other shortlisted stories were: The Lifebloom Gift by Abdul Adan (Kenya/Somalia), What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah (Nigeria), Genesis by Tope Folarin (Nigeria) and At Your Requiem by Bongani Kona (Zimbabwe).

The winning story is about two sisters. One of the sisters is being affected by something that makes her to periodically go mad. Their mother and the other village members believe she is possessed in some way and she is taken to traditional doctors and churches but nothing is relieving her of the madness.  The other sister wants so badly for her sibling to recover she even leaves school so that she can be with her. She begins to understand that the madness her sister is possessed with cannot be healed by the methods the villagers are using. She thinks her sister may be suffering from schizophrenia. She aides her sister with methods to avoid taking the traditional medicines her mother is forcing on her. But eventually that will not be enough and they must take more drastic measures to save the sick girl.

The story is a worthy winner. You can read Memories We Lost at The Caine Prize website.  It is written in solid, beautiful language depicting the dramatic landscapes of the Eastern Cape in gorgeous images, an example being:

“We  hardly  noticed  that  it  had  become  night;  suddenly a giant moon had sneaked above us and stars had weaved patterns only gods understood.  Mountains  and  landscape  were  now  mere  shapes,  giant  and indistinct, leaving us, tiny as we were then, the only things present in the world.”

Lududmalingani said in an interview on Brittle Paper that the announcement of the shortlisting of his story came at an important time, “… around the time the announcement was made, I had been trying to write and struggling. This was not new. My writing process unfolds like this, but around this time I was struggling more than usual, the announcement of the shortlist came and rescued me from what appeared to be an ever-ending streak of struggling to write.”

On the BBC website it was reported that after it was announced that he had won the prize, he was very excited and felt “fed with new energy

to create”. He was also happy to have met new writers while in the UK and that they inspired him “to stop being a lazy bum and do better”.

This year’s shortlist generated a bit of controversy when Tope Folarin, the 2013 winner of the Caine Prize, appeared again on this year’s shortlist. Critic Aaron Bady wrote an article at Literary Hub asking if the Caine Prize is a prize for the best African short fiction or if it is a prize for emerging writers from the continent. In his article he asks:

“After all, if the biggest and most prominent prize for African Literature is a prize designed to shepherd the best young and unknown African writers into prominence, can it also be a prize for the best African short stories, full stop? After all, if the prize is meant to foster emerging writers, why was Segun Afolabi shortlisted last year, after having won the prize in 2005? Why has Tope Folarin been shortlisted this year, after winning the prize in 2013? The return of familiar names has, for many, marked a shift in how the prize has been administered; many of us had assumed that former winners were not eligible; since they had already enjoyed their takeoff, shouldn’t the prize go to a more deservedly unknown writer?”

He makes a valid point that the Prize is hovering in a grey area: it cannot be for emerging writers and then also boast that it is a prize for the best stories from African writers. My feeling is that all prizes are subjective, all problematic when words such as “best” are used since surely not every story was judged.  But the Caine Prize has launched the careers of many talented writers including Binyavanga Wainaina, Brian Chikwava, Segun Afolabi, Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, Leila Aboulela, Helon Habila, and NoViolet Bulwayo among others. I expect the same will happen with this year’s talented winner. This is very important for African writers especially those struggling on the continent.

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