Monday 28 May 2012

Nima Elbagir, Judge 2012, International Correspondent for CNN

Whenever I travel around the continent or when I meet fellow Africans elsewhere around the world and they find out I’m a journalist I’m invariably asked the same question; why does the news out of Africa always have to be so unrelentingly bad?
It’s not.
Even just at CNN we have three separate Africa feature strands and so do many of our competitors but I can understand why people still feel this way.
For years it felt like there was only one narrative when it came to Africa and it was not a narrative that we as Africans had any control over.
That has changed as more and more Africans have picked up pens and cameras and taken ownership of their stories.
Reading through the Caine Prize entries really brought home to me what that ownership has brought with it; a conviction that our stories - whether the real or the imagined - have value.
I said at the beginning of the judging that I was looking for stories that were informed by an "Africanness" but managed to avoid the cliched and predictable.
Nebulous I know but I found that and more.
None of these stories carried the baggage of Africa the unfamiliar or Africa the “exotic”.
None relied on the niche or the novel to carry the reader with them. Instead there was a real confidence that their voices – unwatered down to pander to a ”western” palate- were compelling enough, that the truths universal.

Monday 7 May 2012

Samantha Pinto, Judge 2012, Assistant Professor, Georgetown University

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.