The Southern African influence is not about to let go of the Etisalat Prize for Fiction. Even when the selection of judges has increasingly moved northwards, the sense of entitlement to the prize still prevails among the writers of the south. Six (or Two thirds) of the nine authors on the longlist for the 2016 prize, released in the last week of November 2016, were South African.
The first winner of the prize, who was crowned in 2014, was Noviolet Bulawayo, a Zimbabwean writer whose surname is the name of a city in her country. Shortlisted with Ms. Bulawayo were Yewande Omotosho, a Nigerian writer who grew up in South Africa and Karen Jennings, a South African. Two of the four Judges of the inaugural award were South African, one was a Nigerian married to a Zimbabwean academic and the fourth was a Kenyan writer who studied and worked in South Africa for eight years.
The jury was more diverse in 2015, the second year of the award: a Nigerian married to a Zimbabwean academic, a Zimbawean writer, a Congolese writer and a British-Sudanese writer. The prize went to a South African, who had contested the finals with another South African writer and a Nigerian.
Last year, the jury was headed by a Ghanaian and it included a South African, and a Nigerian. Two South African novelists again made it to the final shortlist of three, but the odd man out, a Congolese novelist, lifted the trophy.
Will it happen that way this year? The final short list includes a South African (only one out of the six in the long list made it to the finals) and two Nigerians. The panel of judges this year is headed by a Nigerian, with an Ivorien and a South African as members. If the odd man wins again, a Southern African would have lifted the £15,000 trophy three out of four times. It’s still early days in the life of the award. It would be interesting to watch which way the Limpopo flows.
’76, Is The Creation of The Year
In the movie ’76, director Izu Ojukwu takes a well known story and delivers it as if it is being told for the first time. The coup of 1976 gripped the nation’s attention; the central highlights in the 41 year old story were the putschists’ loquacious leader who became something of a reverse celebrity in the media and the hugely popular Military Head of state who was killed. Emmanuel Okomanyi’s screenplay is not about these two, but about an officer who finds himself trapped in the mechanics of the coup plotting, even though he has no hand in it.
Because Ojukwu is willing to highlight the symbolisms in the back story, more with the camera’s silent gaze than the utterances of the characters. Because he forces the viewer to tease out meanings from facial expressions that have none of those wild gestures that Nollywood is known for. Because he provides the most granular details of basic daily living that we see soldiers’ quarters as regular habitats. Because Ojukwu ensures that the wildest actions are in the silences of the argument. Because the most vibrant colour in the film is the grey monochrome of the landscape, this delicate piece of work is the Creation of the Year 2016 for this column.
IREP 2017: What Has Odugbemi Worried
Femi Odugbemi, Executive Director IREPRESENT (IREP) Documentary Film Forum, is concerned that Africa’s story tellers are not the ones providing the answers about the country’s past or, for that matter, the highlights of the events of just a generation ago. Why, for instance, should anyone have to fly to London for a photograph of Daily Times’ Headline story on Nigerian independenceday celebration of 1960? The 7th edition of the IREP International Documentary Film Festival will interrogate that. Holding from 16th-19th March 2017 at Freedom Park, Lagos with the theme Archiving Africa, “it will rigorously explore the opportunities open to Africa to bring its historic past into an archival system that is accessible on demand, and most importantly, how we can begin to use these materials to define a path for the future through storytelling”, Odugbemi, himself a filmmaker and documentary activist, says.
“Decades after the last of colonized society in Africa has gained independence, the legacy of European dominance remains – we must recourse to Europe to peep a glimpse of African history and cultural properties because they are mostly domiciled outside of the continent. Our history is ours in bits that is allowed to us from the West! “, he laments. “Documentary/documentation films must respond to this, if it must by any chance, put a stop to the tragedy of forgetfulness in Africa”.
A Hint of “Dylan” in Etisalat’s Long List
In South Africa, Mohale Mashigo is the widely regarded singer/songwriter also known as Black Porcelain. Nakhane Touré, who was born Nakhane Mavuso, is a singer and South African Music Awards (SAMA) winner who has also acted in a movie. Both have significant following in their country as performing artists. Now their debut effort at writing fiction has taken them even farther; Touré’s Piggy Boy’s Blues and Mashigo’s The Yearning are both in the longlist of nine novels in the 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature.
The two didn’t make it to the final shortlist, but in a year that has witnessed so much debate about a songwriter winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, it’s hard to ignore the idea of full time singers/songwriters coming up with novels that are considered worthy enough to make it to the last nine out of over 200 entries for one of the continent’s most competitive trophy. Unlike Bob Dylan, whose choice by the Nobel Committee is criticized by many for not being known to have sat down to pen a full bodied work of literature, Mashigo and Touré need to be paid attention to.
Piggy Boy’s Blues is about the a once proud Royal Family of the Xhosa tribe in South Africa struggling to hang on to glory that it took for granted at a simpler time. The Yearning tracks the life of a thriving city belle whose life suddenly starts hurtling to a dark spiritual past she has difficulty understanding. Contemporary South African authors pay a lot of attention to this business of relating the past to the present. Piggy Boy’s Blues and The Yearning are very faithful representatives of this tendency.
Compiled by staff of Festac News Agency
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