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Celebration Marks Decade of New African Authors

November 30, 2009 – Writers from Kenya and Nigeria visited Georgetown recently to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Caine Prize, which recognizes talented up-and-coming African writers.

Past winners Nigerian writer Helon Habila and Kenyan writer Binyavanga Wainaina joined this year’s winner, Nigerian writer EC Osondu, in reading from their works at the Nov. 14 anniversary celebration in Riggs Library.

“The prize is really for young writers at the start of their careers,” said Samantha Pinto, who teaches African literature in the English department and coordinated the event. “You can tell in their literature how they’re really moving away from writing how the West sees Africa.”

A New Vanguard

The writers read from works that span a range of subjects, from a tale of twin brothers on different life paths to the experience of returning home and seeing it for the first time. Immediately after the reading, English professors Pinto, Jennifer Fink and Rev. Alvaro Ribeiro, S.J., joined in a discussion with the writers about literature, language, culture and politics.

“There really was an eloquence present at the event, not just in the readings, but in the discussion. There is less writing in the tragic mode,” Pinto said afterward. “The writers are using more complex characters and tackling issues in new and innovative ways. They see themselves as the new vanguard in African writing.”

For example, Osondu’s short story, “Waiting,” focuses on the day-to-day struggles of living in a refugee camp. But he said he wants to leave readers with an appreciation for the diversity found on the continent and how colorful the people can be in the way they look and live.

“I think people tend to notice that, in spite of all that is going on in Africa, the people really look happy on the outside,” he said. “I think that’s what I want people to think about when they think of the continent.”

Residency for the Winners

Caine Prize winners receive a monthlong residency at Georgetown through the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice. Osondu will arrive for his residency at Georgetown in February, and hopes to finish a collection of short stories, Voice of America (HarperCollins, 2010), while on campus. His novel, This House is Not for Sale, will be released in 2012.

Much of Osondu’s residency will be spent writing, but he also will give readings and conduct a workshop for Georgetown students.

“I’m also looking forward to seeing what the undergraduates are writing,” said Osondu, who currently teaches creative writing at Providence College in Rhode Island.

After the anniversary readings, the authors continued the celebration that evening in the Africa Room at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.

“It was a rare event to have the prize winners from nearly 10 years apart meet and find common ground for conversation and friendship in the emerging literature,” Ribeiro said. “Georgetown College is this link to the Caine Prize.”

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