Wednesday 28 May 2014

Podcasts of 2014 Shortlisted Stories

This year the Caine Prize has commissioned podcasts of the 2014 shortlist, to run alongside the pdfs of each story that are uploaded for audiences to read in the run up to the announcement of the 15th Caine Prize winner on 14 July. Click the links below to listen to the stories.

Diane Awerbuck (South Africa) "Phosphorescence" in Cabin Fever (Umuzi, Cape Town. 2011)

Read Phosphorescence
Listen to Phosphorescence read by the author, produced by Daniel Breiter at For Music Lovers, Cape Town.

Efemia Chela (Ghana/Zambia) "Chicken" in Feast, Famine and Potluck (Short Story Day Africa, South Africa. 2013)
Listen to Chicken read by the author, produced by Daniel Breiter at For Music Lovers, Cape Town.

Tendai Huchu (Zimbabwe) "The Intervention" in Open Road Review, issue 7, New Delhi. 2013
Read The Intervention
Listen to The Invervention read by the author for Open Road Review.

Billy Kahora (Kenya) "The Gorilla's Apprentice" in Granta (London. 2010)
Listen to The Gorilla's Apprentice read by Ery Nzaramba, produced by Alex Feldman at Pixiu, London.

Okwiri Oduor (Kenya) "My Father's Head" in Feast, Famine and Potluck (Short Story Day Africa, South Africa. 2013)
Read My Father's Head
Listen to My Father's Head read by Njoki Wamai, produced by Alex Feldman at Pixiu, London.

Taxi to Chitungwiza by 2014 Judge, Percy Zvomuya

Harare skyline
The life and fate of Chitungwiza, it seems, is to forever skulk in the shadows cast by Harare’s miniature sky scrappers and lead-soaked fumes. Chitungwiza’s small-time status is undisputed; in official and semi-official literature, it is routinely referred to as Harare’s dormitory town, though it is populated by a million people. It is just 30km removed from Harare, although it seems doubly-detached; the ever present air of fatigue, inertia and desertion that now hangs over Harare is thicker and more toxic in Chitungwiza. 

Percy Zvomuya

It was while on the way to Chitungwiza that I experienced one of the most literature affirming moments I’ve had in a long time. It was literature’s eureka moment, if you will, the football equivalent of which is hugging a stranger when your team eventually scores the winning goal in the last minute of extra time.

I had boarded a commuter minibus taxi and sat in the third or fourth row, two people to my left and someone else on my right. About the people on my left I don’t recall a thing; about the person on my right, I remember almost everything: sex, height, and the conversation we had.

I had hauled out of my satchel sheets of paper on which was printed “The World’s Longest-Held Prisoner,” a short story by Libyan writer Omar El-Keddi; the story is one of 140 short pieces of fiction submitted to the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing. Almost instantly I had become aware that I had company. The man to my right was staring intently at the sheets of paper in my hands. He meant it to be unobtrusive but his interest in the papers in my hands was obvious. 
Nelson Mandela

It could have been the startling title which caught his attention. Southern Africa has its fair share of famous political prisoners; there is Robert Mugabe; late nationalist Maurice Nyagumbo; and, most celebrated of them all, is, of course, St Nelson Mandela. (With the World Cup a few weeks away, the saint is now in heaven where he is probably pondering football tactics with St Luke. It goes without saying that he is putting on an Argentina shirt since his own team Bafana, perennial underachievers, didn’t make it to Brazil, but that’s a story for another day). 

Or maybe it was the easy, unheralded way the story begins: “After failing his middle class exams, Saleh al-Shaybi decided to join the army. He saw his fellow villagers and men from the neighbouring villages return with new clothes, pockets filled with cash, wrists weighed down by watches, smoking cigarettes from full packs and lighting them with gold lighters. He decided to follow in their footsteps, and wrote down ‘please take me' on his application.”
Whenever I flipped a page, leaving my neighbour behind, he would remonstrate. After twenty or so minutes, in which I had turned a couple of papers, him always in tow, he took down the details of the story.  He would go on the internet, he said, download it, and read it for his own pleasure and at his own pace…

Later, finding my way through the inertia of Chitungwiza, I pondered the communion I had partaken in with the stranger. Even though reading is a profoundly solitary exercise, this was the closest that we had come to exploding that piece of wisdom. 

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Stories That Make a Difference by Jackie Kay, Chair of Judges 2014

Photo credit Ben Phillips
I am in Ullapool right now, a beautiful town surrounded by hills on the edge of Loch Broom in the north west of Scotland. At the book festival here I was asked if stories make a difference. I said something bland like that I hoped that my stories might hold up a mirror to the reader's life but that I thought writers were deluded if they thought stories could make a difference to the world we live in. Then a woman came up to me later and said, Your stories made a difference to me. She had suffered a brain injury and had only just been able to start reading again, and found that the short story form was something she could contain.  My stories were the first things she'd been able to read after five years of not reading.

Desert Spirits by Spencer Tunick

The short story is such a fascinating hybrid form. It shares the poet's particular love of image or lyricism, of not wasting a single word, with the novel's wide narrative lens. It takes people often at a moment of change or trauma and distils and invests that moment with something wider, something that in turn helps, by the narrowing of focus, to understand the wider world. It is wide open. It has stretched across the continent. It is the perfect form for our time. It can be carried around in the head, the whole story. You should be able to lay it down on a vast plain and it would still glow.

We were inspired this year by the range of subject matters in the Caine Prize short-listed stories, the different approaches to this pioneering and inventive form.  During our judges meeting we returned again and again to what made a story work for us and what stories made a difference. Was it because we believed the character's voice? Was it the style and tone? Was it the structure of the story? Was it because the story can be philosophical? What is it we were looking for in the stories? We were looking for different stories. Fresh, inventive, surprising. We were looking for stories that make a difference.

Tuesday 6 May 2014

Caine Prize Reflections by Bella Matambanadzo

Bella Matambanadzo
No writer worth her salt would turn her nose up at the opportunity to take part in the Caine Prize for African Writers' Workshop. Being included in a group of 12 published and promising writers from 6 African countries whose short stories are produced into an anthology that sees 8 publishing houses work together is not the sort of gift an author receives everyday. I am looking forward to seeing the final collection stitched together. Its themes of place and belonging, of legacies and futures are inspired as much by our everyday experiences on the continent we call home, as they are by the places elsewhere that we visit, either in the flesh or through the magical realm of our imaginations. 

We will be published by local book houses in Zimbabwe, ZambiaUganda, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria. Off the continent, we have publishing deals secured in the United States and in the United Kingdom. Our work may additionally be translated into French, the first time the Caine Prize is doing so for its annual anthology. I hope this is the beginning of an expansion in the languages formally associated with the Caine Prize. Perhaps in future collections will be published in Kiswahili, Fulani, Wolof, isiXhosa, Hausa and Africa's many other languages, that given the global nature of where Africans live in today's world, and where our works are read, would mean an expansion of readings and writings in our very own tongues. 

As a creative artist and thinker the precious gift of time to focus on the craft of writing and re-writing is something that I will cherish for many, many years to come. Time with other writers who serve as a loving group of peers, giving feedback and reactions to work that goes from draft to final version in less than ten days. The writing escape is organised in a formula that permits you to write what you want and share it firstly with other writers through daily reading sessions. Artistic independence is a hallmark of the workshop. You can either accept, or reject the feedback given you. Experienced editor/mentors offer one-on-one sessions where they see your words and suggest what works, what is incomprehensible, and where improvements can happen. Nothing is off limits. We were guided, urged in fact, to stretch our creative imaginations and push down traditional literary boundaries, break up and recreate language and show no respect whatsoever for prepositions.

I came back with 6 complete stories. The one that will go into the Caine Prize collection, and the 5 others that I am presently submitting to other publishers who have asked for stories. In terms of output that means I wrote a story every two days. The other writers were even more productive, knocking out stories and ideas more adeptly. We met as strangers, and we left with a sense of camaraderie that means although there will eventually only be one winner for the £10,000 prize announced at a ceremony this July because we shared so much as writers, listened to each other's ideas an stories, edited for each other, had great laughter together the collection honours us all. In the end we will all be winners because we worked as a team and everyone brought the best of themselves to our writer's retreat held in the perfect peace of Leopard Rock Hotel in the Vumba, Zimbabwe.

The visits to schools in the surrounding community brought us face to face with young writers, almost 800 of them spread across four different schools. Schools that have produced many of Zimbabwe's most profound literary achievers. At Hartzell, we could taste and feel the atmosphere evoked and immortalized in Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions. At St Werburgh's mission school we read what the students in the young writers club were crafting in their journals: poems, short stories and songs that they plan to publish in a newsletter.    

Back in Harare at the City Library we saw traditional literature coming into contact with tech experimentation. Zimbabwe's geek generation, and yes, it really exists far away from Silicon Valley, is building apps for books to stream via mobile phone. My aspiration now is for writing opportunities, and publishing prospects to expand in Africa, rather than diminish. I have found a thirst for books so rare here that it reminds me that literature is by no means dead. It's gaining a new morphology.
A shorter version of this article was published in Harare News