Kenya missing in action at literary prize

Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature founders Lizzy Attree and Mukoma wa Ngugi. [Courtesy: Twitter @KiswahiliPrize]

Tanzanians Halfani Sudy and Moh’d Omar Juma are the winners of the Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature 2021. Sudy won in the fiction category for her book, ‘Kirusi Kipya’ and Juma won in the poetry category with ‘Chemichemi Jangwani’.

It was all Tanzania at the awards, whose winners were announced on Thursday in Dar es Salaam, with Lucas Lubago (Bweni la Wasichana) coming second in the fiction category.

The runner-up prize can be in any category, and this went to Mbwana Kidato for ‘Sinaubi’, which the judges described as a new form of writing. The first time this has happened.

“This work presents a new form of writing. While it is highly creative, it is neither a novel, nor a play. In it you will find prose writing (as in a novel) and then there are interactions and dialogue between the characters (like in a play). That is why we gave this work a special place among the winners.”

The 2019 prize saw Kenyan John Wanyonyi get second place in the fiction category with his novel, ‘Safari ya Matumaini’. The 2018 edition had Kenyan Jacob Ngumbau Julius win in the poetry category for ‘Moto wa Kifuu’.

The awards were not held in 2020.

The Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature was founded in 2014 by Dr Lizzy Attree (Short Story Day Africa) and Prof Mukoma Wa Ngugi (Cornell University) -pictured together -  to recognise “writing in African languages and encouraging translation from, between and into African languages.”

The Prize’s website states: “While there exists international literary prizes for African writing such as the Caine Prize and the recently established, Etisalat Prize, there are no major international and Pan-African literary prizes awarded to works produced in an African language.”

Sudy has written novels since 2014, and has published ‘Penzi Chungu’, ‘Farida, Kipepeo Mwekundu’, ‘Kanda ya Siri’ and ‘Msako Hatari’. 

The winners in each category received $5,000 (Sh567,000), while the runners up receive $2,500 (about Sh283,000).

The Prize is primarily supported by Mabati Rolling Mills of Kenya (a subsidiary of the Safal
Group), The Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs at Cornell University, the Africana Studies Centre at Cornell University and the Ngugi wa Thiong’o Foundation.