Monday, June 27, 2011

...On the Caine Prize

So the Caine Prize shortlist was realeased. And the names on the shortlist are:
  • NoViolet Bulawayo (Zimbabwe) ‘Hitting Budapest’ from ‘The Boston Review’ Vol 35, no. 6 - Nov/Dec 2010
  • Beatrice Lamwaka (Uganda) ‘Butterfly dreams’ from ‘Butterfly Dreams and Other New Short Stories from Uganda’ published by Critical, Cultural and Communications Press, Nottingham, 2010
  • Tim Keegan (South Africa) ‘What Molly Knew’ from ‘Bad Company’ published by Pan Macmillan SA, 2008
  • Lauri Kubuitsile (Botswana) ‘In the spirit of McPhineas Lata’ from ‘The Bed Book of Short Stories’ published by Modjaji Books, SA, 2010
  • David Medalie (South Africa) ‘The Mistress’s Dog’ from ‘The Mistress’s Dog: Short stories 1996-2010’ published by Picador Africa, 2010

You can read their stories by following the links on the Caine Website.

Ikhide Ikheloa wrote two piece on Next criticising many of  the writers' portrayal of Africa as still pandering to Western taste. Yes Africa is bush. Africa is hungry children. And wars. He calls them outmoded stereotypes:

"The mostly lazy, predictable stories that made the 2011 shortlist celebrate orthodoxy and mediocrity. They are a riot of exhausted clichés even as ancient conflicts and anxieties fade into the past tense: huts, moons, rapes, wars, and poverty. The monotony of misery simply overwhelms the reader. Fiammetta Rocco, the Economist’s literary editor who chaired last year’s judges, crows that the stories are “uniquely powerful.” The stories are uniquely wretched. The chair of this year’s judges Hisham Matar declares presumptuously that the stories “represent a portrait of today’s African short story: its wit and intelligence, its concerns and preoccupations.” Really? Is this the sum total of our experience, this humourless, tasteless canvas of shiftless Stepin Fetchit suffering?"

He raises the fundamental question that has been raised in the past (Flashback to Binyavanga's "How to Write about Africa" in Granta). How should writers write about Africa? Is there just one way (most times the negative!) of writing about Africa?  By the way, these stereotypes, these characters, these environments, are they not with us? Only that with us are also uplifting people and stories that make you smile. 

For me, I think the issue is not much with the writers; maybe it lies more with the judges. I figure (and hope) that some stories without the 'outmoded stereotypes' were submitted. Maybe it didn't catch the judges' fancies. Maybe. Now this is even just hypothetical. Maybe we need more 'different' stories. Stories that are not stuck in the past.  What do you think?


  1. We were having this discussion yesterday on a radio programme. Looks like writers would write these kind of stories just to become published in the West; they want to be seen as the ultimate social commentators on issues... so sad that it has bred mediocrity and taken creativity out of the creative process. Now there is a template that all writers seek to base their stories on.

  2. You've said it all Fred. I'm guessing things can only change since reviewers are not so welcoming of such, and as soon as more people begin to write and share their own stories.

  3. I think writers should write about what they know best. They often criticize Chimamanda Adichie because she only writes about middle-class Nigerians, but it's probably what she knows best. I believe most templates should be literally thrown out of the window: what really counts is if the story works or not. Sometimes even judges could be wrong about what makes a good story.

  4. i agree with stefania, that what matters is whether the story works or not. and yes, myne, more people should tell their own stories, deepening the pool of works available for judges and readers to choose from. we can't be in the business of dictating 'how to' and 'how not to' write. it's counterproductive to the creative process.