Nigerian-American author Lesley Nneka Arimah has won the 20th edition of the Caine Prize for African Writing with a stunning post-apocalyptic short story, Skinned.
The Caine Prize, launched in 2000, has a $10,000 award and is Arimah’s third time shortlisted, and first time to win. Arimah has also won the Commonwealth Short Story prize (2015), so is no stranger to the African writing awards circuit.
The Cain Prize, awarded in London, has the aim of encouraging and highlighting the richness and diversity of African writing, but is only open only to submissions in English, so perhaps missing as much richness and diversity from the continent as it discovers.
Speaking to her fellow shortlisted authors Arimah said,
Your stories have added to the profile of African literature, adding the many voices that we need to illuminate who we are.
When I think of what literature can do, and I think of the ways that literature has changed minds and opened imaginations, I want to say that we African writers must centre the African gaze. We must centre the Nigerian gaze, the Cameroonian gaze, the Ethiopian gaze, the Kenyan gaze. We need to be writing to and for each other, and we also need to play.
And what I mean by play is that when one knows a thing inside and out, say cooking, the chefs who do fusion cooking do so because they know both cuisines that they are using intimately.
I think of experimentation as the sign of expertise. And I think it’s important we continue as we have started, as we have been, as we are doing always, that we continue to play within the bounds of our literatures. And I emphasise “each other” because, yes, we must centre the African gaze.
For another time, perhaps is a debate to be had about what African literature is, when so many of the big-name African authors actually write in the USA or Europe and have a background and life experience beyond the continent.
But here to celebrate the story that won the Caine Prize for 2019. You can read Skinned in full here, and it will be time well-spent. All the more so for those familiar with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
Skinned is a dystopian African story for our times.