A literary shortlist always creates excitement, shock, surprise and even hisses. The US$100,000 worth The Nigerian Prize for Literature just released elicits no less emotions, at least for those familiar with some or all of the works.
On the shortlist are Ngozi Achebe Onaedo with The Blacksmith’s Daughter, Ifeanyi Ajaegbo with Sarah House, Jude Dibia with Blackbird, Vincent Egbuson with Zhero, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani with I Do Not Come to You by Chance. Others are Onuorah Nzekwu with Troubled Dust, Olusola Olugbesan with Only Canvass, Lola Shoneyin with The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, E.E. Sule with Sterile Sky and Chika Unigwe with On Black Sister’s Street.
Also for the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, with US$20,000 prize money, a final shortlist has been announced out of the initial 15 longlist. It includes Nigeria’s Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo (author of Roses and Bullets), South Africa’s Sifiso Mzobe (author of Young Blood) and Zimbabwe’s Bridget Pitt (author of The Unseen Leopard). Making this announcement during the week was award-winning author, painter and CEO, The Lumina Foundation, Dr. Ogochukwu Promise.
The ceremony will be held tomorrow at The Civic Centre, Lagos. The Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa has telecommunication giant, Globacom Ltd as major sponsor, a development that has been applauded in literary circles.
Meanwhile, some of the works in The Nigeria Prize for Literature that elicits excitement include Adaobi Nwaubani’s I Do Not Come to You by Chance, an extremely hilarious novel about the 419 scam of the late 1990 and early 2000. Nwaubani’s wit and ability to thresh up the minds of these scammers stand her work out. Not least darkly hilarious is Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives that explores a festering harem racked by the inability of the husband to father a child because of infertility. On the other hand, Onuorah Nzekwu’s Troubled Dust and Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sister’s Street are works that stand out in their own terms. Nzekwu’s Troubled Dust was published some 42 odd years after it was written; it stirs up raw emotions about the Nigerian Civil War fought in the late 60s and serves as a reminder that the warpath should never be an option because of the dire consequences. The co-author of Eze Goes to School has a work that can strongly contend for the prize just like any other.
Unigwe’s On Black Sister’s Street opens the raw wound of female trafficking for prostitution purposes still rampant in some part of the country as a means of escaping the economic hardship in Nigeria. The Belgium-based writer’s work explores the dark world of the criminal ring that profits from this obnoxious trade in feminine flesh and the lives of the victims. Apart from Dibia’s Blackbird, which deals with two families and the intertwining relationships, the other works also present their own peculiar surprises and expectations. Perhaps, the only other work conspicuously missing from this list is Prof. Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo’s Roses and Bullets. It may be that as jury head last year for the children’s literature for the same prize, the professor of English may have excused herself from presenting her work for consideration. In which case, it was honourable decision even though her work would have been a serious contender for the prize.
Now as they say, the die is cast, and let the judging begin! Members of the panel of judges for this year’s prize include Prof. J.O.J. Agbaja, Prof. Angela Miri, prof. Sophia Ogwude, and Dr. Oyeniyi Okunoye, with Prof. Francis Abiola Irele, Provost of the Colleges of Humanities at Kwara State University and Fellow of the Dubois Institute, Harvard University, jury panel chairman. He said it took hours of intensive scrutiny by the panel to produce the shortlist. A closer scrutiny will produce the shortlist of three before the final award in October.
Tomorrow also, the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa will announce its winner in a grand ceremony at The Civic Centre, Victoria Island, Lagos. Former President of Ghana, Mr. John Kuffour will deliver a keynote address while Governors Babatunde Fashola and Ibikunle Amosun of Lagos and Ogun States respectively will be in attendance.