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‘African Booker’ Winner in Residency at Georgetown

Olufemi Terry

2010 Caine Prize winner Olufemi Terry talks about an unpublished work, "Lamu Squat," which he shared with the university community during a Feb. 15 reading on campus. The story is about a pair of squatters who wind up staying in someone else's home on the island of Lamu, just off the coast of Kenya.

February 23, 2011 – The winner of the 2010 Caine Prize for African Writing, known as the “African Booker” award, is a writer-in-residence at Georgetown this month.

Olufemi Terry, a native of Sierra Leone, won the prize for his short story “Stick Fighting Days,” narrated by a boy who lives on the streets of a Kenyan slum.

The boy and his friends pass the time by sniffing glue and battling each other with sticks.

Life as Art

“He lives in a dump and doesn’t have very many career prospects, and he’s trying to make his way in the world,” says Terry, who now lives in Germany.

The inspiration for the story came from the boys Terry would see living on the streets during his time working in Nairobi, Kenya.

The university began offering a residency to Caine Prize winners in 2007.

Diaspora Writers

The residency allows the prize winner to spend time developing his or her next project while allowing students access to new literary talent through classroom visits, mentoring opportunities and discussions on writing and personal experiences.

“For an entire month, we are able to host a gifted writer from the African continent and the diaspora, chosen for one of the highest international literary awards,” says Carolyn Forché, director of Georgetown’s Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice. “We are with them at the beginning of their careers.”

The Lannan center is an enterprise in the English department that stages readings, seminars, talks and symposia and is supported by the Lannan Foundation of Santa Fe, N.M.

Terry is part of a panel discussion at Georgetown later today to talk about African literature with Samantha Pinto, assistant professor of English, who served on the Caine Prize judging panel for 2010. Also on the panel is Kadija Sesay, publisher of Sable LitMag, a literary magazine with short stories by writers of color.  

The Booker Connection

The Caine Prize is named in memory of the late Sir Michael Caine, who served as chair of the Booker Prize management committee for nearly 25 years. The first prize was awarded in 2000 at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair.

“I was actually here in D.C., last April when I got an e-mail saying that I was a finalist,” recalls Terry, who has family in the area.

Shortlisted with other writers from South Africa, Kenya and Zambia, judges announced Terry as the winner in Oxford, England, in July.

Nearly Flawless

“This is highly original writing, powerful and nearly flawless,” says Forché of Terry’s winning story.

Forché is Georgetown’s Lannan Visiting Professor of Poetry and Professor of English and the award-winning author of four books of poetry and numerous other publications.

Terry shared his work with the university community during his Feb. 15 reading and reception at Georgetown.

Georgetown faculty members often hold a seat on the Caine Prize jury. David Gewanter, professor of English, will serve on this year’s jury.

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