The Caine Prize for African Writing, in its 18th year, has grown to become the most prestigious award for literary writing by Africans. But the question remains, how does the prize get to select its winners out of the numerous entries? What are the criteria, if any?

Following the announcement of its winner last week, Praxis talked to the judges.

Begin your day by reading this Q and A with Nii Ayikwei Parkes, chair of 2017  Caine Prize judges and a writer, editor and socio-cultural commentator.

When you got selected to be a judge, did you have any expectations for the stories to come?

No. I was open to whatever would come.

What was the experience like reading through all the entries and picking the stories that made the shortlist? Were there any specific criteria?

There were no criteria per se. I told all the judges to enjoy reading, like the literature lovers we all were.

What observations did you make on the entries you read, similarities, differences, reoccurring themes, etc.

I think I covered this in my speech. There were themes of change and identity that emerged strongly as well as a healthy leaning towards experimentation.

What would you say made the shortlist stand out among other entries?

They were daring, inventive and better realised technically than most of the ones that didn’t. Of course, reading is subjective so a different panel may have had a slightly different shortlist. There were certainly other stories technically strong enough to make the shortlist that we did not find as moving

What are your views about Caine Prize and the work it’s doing?

I think the Caine Prize’s work is encouraging the development of the short story form across Africa and has been historically significant. Thankfully there is now work from other quarters e.g. Short Story Day Africa and in other genres that is helping to move writing on the continent forward.

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