Time for Africa to create its own literature award


Tanzania’s Abdulrazak Gurnah wins the 2021 Nobel Prize in Literature. [Courtesy: Literary Hub]

The 2021 Nobel Literature Prize was awarded to Tanzania-born Professor Abdulrazak Gurnah. The novelist grew up in Zanzibar and later moved to England as a refugee in 1968, where he began to ply his writing trade at 21 years old.

Gurnah became the second black African writer to win the Nobel Literature Prize.

Other African writers who have been awarded the prize include Wole Soyinka in 1986, Naguib Mahfouz in 1988, Nadine Gordimer in 1991, and J.M. Coetzee in 2003.

But this much-coveted honour has attracted the attention of many African literature scholars, while at the same time setting off a furious debate on the criteria for awarding the prize.

The Swedish Academy, which is responsible for choosing Nobel Laureates in Literature, seems to shun a certain ilk of writers (who appear critical of Western imperialism and undue white dominance).

That’s why some other great African writers like our very own Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and the late Chinua Achebe, despite being gifted and widely read, never won the award.

It simply beats logic why a writer of Achebe’s calibre, acumen and pedigree has never won this prize.

Gradually, it seems to have dawned on Africans that this may, after all, never happen. But why?

Ngugi, for instance, seeks to question the hegemonies of power.

His literary works criticise Eurocentrism and the effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism in Africa, exploring the destruction and diminishing of African cultures - their arts, religion, values and history.

His works point out that political, economic and cultural dominance cannot be exercised without the manipulation of minds.

All winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature have either been apologists of white imperialism, or just played safe regarding the matter.

Which is a defeatist approach, given that a writer, using literary tools, ought to mirror society with a view of intrepidly interrogating issues dogging society.

As Canadian psychologist Jordan B. Patterson stated, “in order to think, you must risk being offensive.” That being said, it’s about time Africa celebrated their own writers and not wait for the West to appreciate our best minds in literature and the arts. Africa needs to create its own academy to nurture writing talent and appreciate the best among them.

Few such organizations have already been established with an aim of recognizing and celebrating African writers in various forms of literature like poems, drama and prose fiction. 

In the meantime, departments of literature in universities across the continent can start by organizing colloquiums on students, authors and translators, promoting vivid literacy activity and exchange.

They can also organise creative writing workshops to cater for absolute beginners through to intermediate writers which aspires confidence in all writers. 

Hosting book authors and conducting interviews about their literary works could prove to be an effective way of appreciating literature.

Locally, Alliance Francaise is already holding the candle to us to this end through Mbogi ya Mawriters, a monthly show hosted by the eloquent Mwalimu John Sibi Okumu, a renowned thespian and playwright himself.

Lastly, we ought to have favorable policy and legal frameworks that protect writers and enforce matters of copy right that would make writing lucrative as to attract the best minds.

With a well-thought-out approach, Africa can fashion her own premium literature prize and render the Nobel Prize for literature inconsequential to the continent. 


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