Well, it is not news that the Penguin Prize is opened for submissions. However, it has come under so much criticism because of its rules. Toyin Adepoju, Nigerian academic states his issues with the prize; Nnedi Okorafor is also unhappy with the rules.
Toyin Adepoju's Grouse:
1.Submissions in the children’s literature, science fiction or fantasy genres will not be considered
Why? I am really puzzled by this.
The iconic work of the following African writers challenges such a criterion. Christopher Okigbo's poetry, in which he journeys to the goddess’ underwater abode, is fantasy writing. Ben Okri is primarily a fantasist in his entry to and from the alternate world of the spirit children, the ogbanje, in The Famished Road, which opens with an endless road which is “always hungry”, and a king who is animal, human and spirit. The same goes for Amos Tutuola’s palm wine tapper pursuing his deceased palm wine “tapster” into the “Deads Town” and Daniel Fagunwa’s hunters who travel in forests in which mind boggling creatures abound, as well as Bessie Head’s A Question of Power, where the protagonist is in constant internal warfare with characters who are either God...
Penguin issued the works of the US writer H.P. Lovecraft, one of the greatest masters of metaphysical horror. They also issued the stories of the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges, distinctive for his metaphysical narrative riddles, most of which are gems of the improbable, like the story of God's dream visitation to the tiger and the poet.
Fantasy writing is one of the most powerful genres for exploring the deepest issues about the meaning of life and alternative conceptions of reality. One reason why I am not too enthusiastic about much African writing is the very limitation suggested by this Penguin prize criterion-a focus on realist writing that severely limits the range of possibilities available in the literature.
2.Serious narrative non-fiction that examines and explores African issues and experiences for both local and international audiences in an engaging, thought provoking and enlightening way.
Why? Must an African write about Africa? So many non-Africans have made their names writing about Africa. I,for one, am an African who has a keen interest in comparative mysticism, African, Islamic Asian, European. In being assessed for such a prize, why should the non - location of the work in relation to Africa be an issue? Are we not observing a move here towards cultural ghettoisation? With such a restriction, should the prize not be titled instead as a prize for Africans writing about Africa, instead of simply being a prize for African writing?
Are Plato, Kant, Descartes, or the more recent Paul Davies, Martin Rees and Stephen Hawking , all scientists and philosophers who are great or impressive writers, writing about Europe, Germany, Greece or England per se? No. They are writing about the human condition from their backgrounds as Europeans, a background that is not definitive of the subject matter of their works.
Nnedi Okorafor has six reactions to the stipulation "Submissions in the children’s literature, science fiction or fantasygenres will not be considered"
My first reaction: No science fiction or fantasy genres? WTF?! Well, why the heck not?!
My second reaction: So…just how many Africans are even WRITING fiction directly, openly categorized as “science fiction” and “fantasy”? Sooooo many that this has to be said?
My third reaction: Would novels like Famished Road, Icarus Girl, or Wizard of the Crow be rejected?
My fourth reaction: A prize with this kind of stipulation is openly disrespecting science fiction and fantasy as literature. Good Lord, I felt like I was back in my PhD program again.
My fifth reaction: This will do wonders in inspiring African writers to write science fiction and fantasy (I’m being sarcastic).
My sixth reaction: Well, the judges for the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature were open-minded enough to choose my fantasy novel Zahrah the Windseeker.
Rules are made by humans, for humans and not humans for rules, not so? We are wondering the mentality behind the rules as they'd rather restrict creativity instead of promote it. What do you think?