Jowhor Ile, Julie Iromuanya, or Jacqui L’Ange will be announced the winner of the 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature tomorrow.
Many may shy away from predicting publicly who the judges have selected as the winner, but let me tell you.
The past, the present, and the future leave clues for the keen observer.
Although, in its fourth year, The Etisalat Prize for Literature has never been won by a Nigerian. This was actually how I heard about the prize. Somewhere in Blogville, a group of writers, literary critics, and readers renamed The Prize, The South African Prize for Literature.
I found this quite amusing. The inaugural prize winner, No Violet Bulawayo is from Zimbabwe. Songeziwe Mahlangu from South Africa won in the second year, and Fiston Mujila from the Congo clinched last year’s win.
Now, when it comes to literary prizes, geography and country favoritism should not sway the sentiments of both the judges and readers.
Which is why I must commend the past years’ judges for ignoring the backlash and focusing on the literary works rather than literary origins.
Still, with two Nigerians on this year’s shortlist (Jowhor Ile and Julie Iromuanya), I fear that literary protests may break out if The Prize evades the region again.
These last months have been rough for the populace and a win will add a reason to smile.
At a book reading hosted for the three shortlisted authors in Lagos, the audience got a feel of how each writer interacts with the work.
If the award goes to the most amount of research put into a novel, Jacquie L’Ange’s “The Seed Thief” will easily win.
We listened like students as Jacquie explained travelling to Salvador, Bahia to get first hand information. She investigated the origins of the seeds of a plant native to West Africa, the let these experiences direct the narrative. Her methodical approach to the science of the novel was crystal clear.
For the flow of story, fascinating characters, and sustained delivery, Julie Iromuanya’s “Mr. & Mrs. Doctor” can win.
The story is very familiar and the embedded reactions hit home.
As Julie explained how the Nigerian community in Nebraska influenced the characters and narrative, this novel became somewhat easy to understand. Any surprises would come from the author herself.
When Jowhor Ile was asked by host, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey to give background information such as what place did the story come from, it was hard to pinpoint a direct response.
The truth is sometimes a story is simply a story. Despite the fact that Bibi, Ajie, Paul, Aunt Julie, and a host of many other characters took years to form, “And After Many Days” holds truest among the three to the effortless but poignant story form.
And even though, we may not feel comfortable talking about the money, that sum can make a difference in a writer’s life.
In Nigerian Naira, we are talking about N 7, 350,000 using the rate of £1 to N490 .
Post tomorrow’s event, Julie will return back to the University of Arizona to her Assistant Professor position; Jacquie will delve into more research transforming the science of things and beings to a novel form, while Jowhor is off to Boston to complete his final year of an MFA Program.
Don’t get me wrong. Everybody can do with some extra cash. There are loans to pay, outstanding debts, promises to fulfill etc.
Still, it is not difficult to decide who would be ecstatic about receiving this lump sum.
I like how The Guardian plays it safe when predicting The Oscars. For The Best Picture, a series of write-up states why each nominee deserves a win.
For each of these authors to advance to this stage is a win already.
There is just this rumble in my chest that breathlessly whispers. When Helon Habila, chair of this year’s judging panel takes the mic to announce the winner. It will be for “And After Many Days” by Jowhor Ile.