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Rachel Zadok

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

On Okwiri’s Win

Okwiri Oduor won The Caine Prize with “My Father’s Head” the winning story in Short Story Day Africa’s 2013 competition. It’s the lead story in Feast, Famine & Potluck, our first foray into the world of publishing. Karen Jennings, the collection’s editor, will back me up when I tell you that Okwiri is a writer of sheer determination and calm poise, an African writer who is not going to let the standards of Western publishing dictate how she portrays her world. For example, she put her foot down when Karen wanted to italicize African language words, as is standard practice. And, when Karen came to me for guidance, I told her Okwiri was right. I didn’t do it in Sister-sister, so I wasn’t about to impose italics on someone else. Africa, in all its multiple glories, is not a foreigner in an anthology of African fiction.

Okwiri Oduor is a perfect example of the African writer Short Story Day Africa was born to create a platform for. A voice that will not make itself smaller or paler or more palatable to a tongue that has never tasted the flavours served up at her Kenyan table. And so are the other five shortlisted authors. All five author are uncompromising voices with exceptional talent. Diane Awerbuck is astute in her understanding of human nature. Her writing gets under your skin, and sometimes it flays you. Read her story, Duiweltjie, published in The Root Cellar and Other Stories if you don’t know what I mean. Billy Kahora makes you weep for things you didn’t know you’d lost, and he’s a man of great social conscience when it comes to the landscape of African writing and writers, as his editorial leadership at Kwani? is testament to. ¬†Efemia Chela: well there’s a hotbed of talent and emotion rolled up in that young writer. She’s a¬†complex, lateral thinker weaving plot with prose you want to eat. Brave, experimental, post-post-modern.Last of the five, and certainly not the least, is Tendai Huchu, a man who has mastered the art of comic tragedy.

I want all of these five writers to be squabbled over at book fairs. And I want everyone to read them.



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