I Guess I’m Not in Africa Any More

When I complained about no Arabs on the “African Booker” or Caine Prize shortlist (books must be submitted in English, although it can be a translation), a Nigerian writer linked here and opined that we already had the Arabic Booker, so what did we need with more prizes?

And now, for the “African Nobel” (good grief), or the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, books must be written in English or French. Works in translation are apparently not eligible.

I am not suggesting that Arab writers need more prize venues. Maybe, maybe not. In any case, we have other, more immediate problems. (Readers. We need readers!) But what I do object to is this brush, brush, kick from African literary prizes—as though Arabic were not an important part of the continent’s literary heritage and future.

Not to mention Swahili, Berber, Igbo, Amharic, or Yoruba.

Yes, yes, it would be impossible to judge a competition where submissions arrived in each of Africa’s some 2,000 living languages. However, translation is an option. And probable those who deal with literary prizes can think of other options—isn’t there some major Asian prize where the winning language trades off every year?

In any case, congratulations to Kopano Matlwa and Wale Okediran, joint winners of this year’s Wole Soyinka. Read more about them here.

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