The 2020 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing has found its winner in critically acclaimed Nigerian-British author Irenosen Okojie ’s short story ‘Grace Jones’ (2019). This announcement comes after long months of screenings and listings.
Okojie’s triumph, which comes with a monetary reward of £10,000, was announced by Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp, the chairperson of the judging panel and director of The Africa Centre, in a film released to commemorate the event. He said:
“This year’s winner of the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing is a radical story that plays with logic, time and place; it defies convention, as it unfolds a narrative that is multi-layered and multi-dimensional. It is risky, dazzling, imaginative, and bold; it is intense and full of stunning prose; it’s also a story that reflects African consciousness in the way it so seamlessly shifts dimensions, and it’s a story that demonstrates extraordinary imagination. Most of all, it is world-class fiction from an African writer.
“At the heart of this story is its main protagonist, a young woman from Martinique living in London, who is moonlighting as a celebrity impersonator; her journey moves exquisitely and seamlessly between the exploration of the universal experiences of unspeakable suffering, pleasure and escape, and the particular experience of being Black and African in a global city such as London.
“In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has prompted deeply powerful questions about race, justice, and equality in the world today – this story offers a salient exploration of what it can mean to embody and perform Blackness in the world. This is a story of tremendously delicate power and beauty, and one in which we recognize the tradition of African storytelling and imagination at its finest.”
Grace Jones tells the story of Sidra, a Grace Jones impersonator with a dark past, and is one of the stories in Okojie’s captivating third book Nudibranch, which also doubles as her second short story collection. Her debut novel Butterfly Fish (2015) won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for an Edinburgh International First Book Award. Her first short story collection, Speak Gigantular, was shortlisted for the Edgehill Short Story Prize, the Jhalak Prize, the Saboteur Awards, and nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award. Irenosen Okojie is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
A page from the organizer’s official website reads:
The AKO Caine Prize for African Writing is a literature prize awarded to an African writer of a short story published in English. The prize was launched in 2000 to encourage and highlight the richness and diversity of African writing by bringing it to a wider audience internationally. The focus on the short story reflects the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition.
Irenosen Okojie joins the rank of past winners of this prestigious award and deserves all the cheers. We say a well-deserved CONGRATULATIONS to her!
WATCH THE AWARD ANNOUNCEMENT HERE