Race for 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature begins…


Yinka Olatunbosun

Etisalat needs new names. Yes, it’s official. The famed literary prize is in search of new entries for its 2016 edition. It’s no news that last year, the writer from Democratic Republic of Congo, Fidson Mwanza Mujila won the coveted prize with his debut novel, Tram 83, making him the first Francophone writer to win the prize. Although the prize is yet to be won by any Nigerian writer since 2013 when it was instituted, this year presents another opportunity for young Nigerian as well as African writers to shine.

The ball was set rolling at the Wheatbaker Hotel, Ikoyi last week where tea was served alongside the snacks with fillings that typify the diverse nature of the literary landscape in Africa. Declaring this edition open, the CEO, Etisalat Nigeria, Matthew Wilsher, announced that the award winning Nigerian writer and poet, Helon Habila will serve as the Chair, panel of judges which include the South African writer and activist, Elinor Sisulu and Ivorian writer, Edwige Rene Dro.

“We are delighted to champion the cause for celebrating the richness and strength of African literature. Etisalat Prize for Literature is about discovering and bringing to the world stage the many creative talents that Africa boasts of. The Etisalat Prize is about creativity, excellence, empowerment and reward. It is about celebrating our African diversity in very innovative ways through various forms of art, literature being one of them,” Willsher said.

To qualify, the fiction must not be more than 24 months old from the date of submission. The entries must also be registered by publishing houses which are not less than six years of incorporation with registered ISBN number or the equivalent. All entries are expected to be made with seven copies of the book and an acceptance of the publicity terms. Each publisher may not submit more than three entries.
The Chair of Judges, Habila hails from Plateau and is African Writing Fellow at the University of East Anglia. In 2002 he published his first novel, Waiting for an Angel. His writing has won many prizes including the Caine Prize in 2001. In 2006, this Chevening scholar became the Chinua Achebe Fellow at Bard College, New York. Currently, he teaches creative writing at George Mason University, Washington D.C.

The Etisalat Prize for Literature is a Pan African Prize for literature that celebrates debut African writers of published fiction. It was first won by the Zimbabwean author, NoViolet Bulawayo for her work, We Need New Names. In 2014, it was won by South Africa’s Songeziwe Mahlangu for the debut fiction, Penumbra.

When Wilsher revealed that the winner receives a cash prize of £15,000, he remarked that the prize money is still the same despite the change in the foreign exchange rate in Nigeria. In addition, the winner will enjoy fellowship at the University of East Anglia, under the mentorship of Professor Giles Foden, the writer, Last King of Scotland.

Asides this, all the shortlisted authors will have 1,000 copies of their entries distributed across several countries in Africa.
In addition, the Etisalat Prize for Flash Fiction is set to receive entries. It is an online-based competition for non-published African short story writers. Last year, Kuti Ojuolape Modupe’s Gone was the winning entry.