The longlist for the 2017 9mobile Prize for Literature has been announced. Awarded to the best debut African fiction, the list, in no particular order, includes: ‘What it Means When a Man Falls Down from the Sky’ by Lesley Nneka Arimah (Kachifo Limited an Imprint of Farafina), ‘Like it Matters’ by David Cornwell (Penguin Random House), ‘Radio Sunrise’ by Anietie Isong (Jacaranda Books) and ‘Taduno’s Song’ by Odafe Atogun (Canongate Books). Others are ‘The Printmaker’by Bronwyn Law-Viljoen (Penguin Random House), ‘Stay with Me’ by Ayobami Adebayo (Canongate Books), ‘Being Kari’ Qarnita Loxton (Kwela Books), ‘Asylum’ by Marcus Low (Picador Africa an imprint of Pan Macmillan) and ‘A Casualty of Power’ by Mukuka Chipanta (Weaver Press).
The winner takes home 15,000 pounds and a fellowship at the University of East Anglia to study creative writing.
This year’s judging panel, chaired by Harry Garuba, includes Doreen Baingana and Siphiwo Mahala.
The shortlist of three authors will be announced next.
Garuba said in a statement announcing the longlist that the books entered for the 2018 9mobile Prize testify to the abundance of talented new voices emerging from the African continent.
“The entries range through a variety of themes and preoccupations that mirror the expanse and diversity of the continent. The care and craft that the authors bring to the exploration of their chosen themes show a level of skill and artistry not often found in first works of fiction. These works give us a glimpse of the exciting literary landscapes ahead for African fiction,” he said.
‘What it Means When a Man Falls from the Sky’ is a dazzlingly accomplished debut collection which explores the ties that bind parents and children, husbands and wives, lovers and friends to one another and to the places they call home.
In ‘Like It Matters’ Ed meets Charlotte one golden afternoon and decides that the 14 sleeping pills he’s painstakingly collected don’t matter anymore: this will be the moment he pulls things right, even though he can see Charlotte comes with a story of her own. They try to make a life in Muizenberg, but old habits die hard, and they become embroiled in a scheme that soon slips out of their control.
‘Radio Sunrise’ is a satirical picture of the Nigeria that Ifiok, a young journalist working for the government radio station in Lagos, lives in. He wants to do the right thing but the odds seem to be stacked against him. When he travels to his hometown to do a documentary on some ex-militants’ apparent redemption, a series of events will make him realise he is unable to swim against the tide.
‘Taduno’s Song’ tells of sacrifice, love and courage. Taduno the musician in ‘Taduno’s Song’ finds a new purpose: to unravel the mystery of his lost life and to find his lost love. Through this search, he comes to face a difficult decision: to sing for love or to sing for his people.
‘The Printmaker’ reflects on one man’s obsessive need to make meaning through images and to find, in art, the traces of love and friendship. A reclusive printmaker dies and leaves his friend thousands of etchings and drawings he has stored in his house over the years. The friend gets a curator to help sort and exhibit the work. The curator finds a box addressed to someone in Zimbabwe and sets out on a journey of discovery.
‘Stay with me’ is Yejide’s story and that of many an African woman in search of the fruit of the womb and hoping for a miracle. It is also her husband’s desire and that of the entire family she is married to. So, she goes to work, trying everything within her power to get what will endear her to her new family. But they can’t wait, they want what they want. They want another woman to bear a child for their son, Yejide’s husband.
‘Being Kari’ dwells on Kari du Toit, for whom Valentine’s Day will never be the same again after the love of her life reveals he’s been unfaithful to her and life as she knows it comes tumbling down. After 10 years of silence, Kari receives a call from her estranged brother and once again becomes Karima Essop, daughter of Amina and Farouk Essop. For Kari, sometimes finding love means going back to where you came from.
‘Asylum’ brilliantly blends the real and imagined world. Barry James is detained in a facility where he exists in two worlds: the discordant and unforgiving reality of his incarceration and the lyrical, snowy landscapes of his dreams. But when there’s an opportunity to escape the question is to escape what and where to? For, can there be a life to go back to for him? Is there still a world out there in the barren wasteland beyond the fence?
‘A Casualty of Power’ takes the reader on a journey with Hamoonga Moya who boards the inter-city bus and sets off on a six-hour journey to Lusaka, a long way from the township of his youth on the Zambian Copperbelt. What follows is a life in the capital, which brings him new friends, new ideas, as his journalism studies introduce him to ethical dilemmas. Outside the classroom, his life, and his hope for the future, are soon entangled in a web of greed, international crime, and betrayal.