£15,000 is indeed a lot of money and it would of course transform the career of any writer who gets it. So, by offering the exact amount in prize money, the Etisalat Prize for Literature is the answer to the prayers of many up and coming authors in Africa.
Since its inception in 2013, winners of the prize have testified that The Etisalat Prize for Literature has brought a tremendous turnaround to their lives. Even those whose contest for the continent’s biggest literary prize ended on the shortlist have gained immense benefits from being considered at all.
The winner not only gets the whopping £15,000, they also receive a fellowship at the prestigious University of East Anglia. This fellowship comes with a mentorship a number of distinguished professors, including Prof. Giles Foden, author of The Last King of Scotland.
The telecom company then sponsors the winner and two runners-up on an all expense paid to several cities around the world.
Etisalat not only changes writers’ lives, the telecommunication company also boosts the profiles of the publishing houses from where the shortlisted books came. Etisalat purchases 1,000 copies of all the books on the shortlist and distributes to libraries and schools all over Africa.
As the event and ceremonies of the Etisalat Prize for Literature wind down, the careers of shortlisted authors usually take off.
At the first award ceremony in 2013, Zimbabwean writer NoViolet Bulawayo won with her debut novel, We Need New Names. Since then, Bulawayo, who is a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University (2012-2014), has accumulated more international accolades, including the Los Angeles Times Book Prize Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award.
In 2014, Songeziwe Mahlangu from South Africa won the honour with his debut novel, Penumbra. He has since gone on to garner more international recognition for his work.
Fiston Mwanza Mujila from The Democratic Republic of Congo was the winner in 2015 for his debut fiction, Tram 83. His novel has since been translated into Italian, German, Swedish, Spanish and Dutch. Tram 83 also made the long list of the Man Booker International Prize and, in 2016, was awarded the Grand Prix of Literary Associations (Belles-Lettres Category) prize.
Etisalat says it is encouraged to sponsor the prize because of such inspirational stories as these.
Chief Executive Officer of Etisalat Nigeria, Matthew Willsher, says, “As a rite of passage, published and unpublished literary works of art have been passed down from generation to generation in Africa. Etisalat Nigeria is indeed pleased to celebrate all authors in the African literary spectrum from the greats such as Wole Soyinka, Miriama Ba to Ben Okri, Alain Mabanckou and Chimamanda Adichie. As such, Etisalat Nigeria is proud to use its maiden edition of the Etisalat Prize for Literature pan-African award to recognize and celebrate the amazing work done by these unique individuals.”
For the 2016 prize, two Nigerians and one South African are set to face-off in the final. They are Jowhor Ile (Nigeria), author of After Many Days (Kachifo Limited, Nigeria); Julie Iromuanya (Nigeria), author of Mr & Mrs Doctor (Coffee House Press, USA) and Jacqui L’Ange (South Africa), author of The Seed Thief (Umuzi Publishers, South Africa).
Chairman of the judging panel, Helon Habila, says “originality of voice and literary excellence,” are two of the most important criteria to winning the award. “Our purpose was to select a work that portrays an African sensibility,” he says.
Mr Habila, a Caine Prize winner is an associate professor of creative writing at George Mason University, United States. Other members of the jury are Edwige-Renée Dro and Elinor Sisulu. Dro, from Cote d’Ivoire, is one of the founding members of Abidjan Lit, an influential collective of writers and readers. South African Sisulu is a writer and human rights activist. He was the 2003 winner of the prestigious Noma Award for publishing in Africa.
The 2016 winner of the Etisalat Prize for Literature will be announced at a ceremony in Lagos on Saturday May 20, 2017.