Besides seconding everything that Bernardine Evaristo, in her inaugural Caine Prize blog post, had to say about the Caine Prize and African writing, it is hard to know what to add. As a second-time judge (my first go-round was 2010), I appreciate her candor and her passion for African writing that does not fit the expected mold. And as a professor of African literature at Georgetown, an American university, I think about how the West imagines Africa every day.
Now, challenging others’ ideas about the continent is certainly not the job or primary concern of an African writer. But it is my job, explicitly, every time I teach contemporary African literature and culture. So it is with that in mind that I approach the Caine Prize entries. How are these stories engaging and representing the diversity and innovation of modern African culture? How do these stories draw in line with the classics of contemporary African literature, and how might they also or instead relate to other forms of media on the continent, from Nollywood to Kwani? to genre fiction? Where would I place them on a syllabus—and how can I imagine my students receiving them? Does the writing, in form and/or in content, give us something new and substantial to read, something not easily forgotten?
The Caine Prize has the potential to say “yes” to this last question every year with its shortlist and its winning story. In this, its generic rules itself are in line with our global, technologically advanced times. As Jackie Kay, a Scottish writer of African descent, said recently in the Guardian, "I think the short story is perfect for our time, and perfect for people's time . . . You can read a short story in your lunch hour or before you go to sleep and it's a complete experience. You can carry the story around with you in your head and if you put it down in a large field it should still glow because of its intensity." I hope as a judge to find this intensity in the short fiction submitted for the Caine Prize; I hope as a teacher that my students learn to carry some of these beautifully crafted stories into a much larger conversation about Africa than the one that exists in mainstream American media.