Monday, February 7, 2011

Nigerian Writers Dominate Commonwealth Prizes

Four Nigerian writers are among the authors on the race for this year's Commonwealth Writer's Prize: Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, author of "I Do Not Come To You By Chance," is one of them.

She was shortlisted in the Best First Book (Africa) category for her debut novel, I Do Not Come To You By Chance. The book, which has been published in the United States and Britain, is a fictional story about so-called '419ers' whose mode of operation is advance fee fraud perpetrated via e-mail.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has also been shortlisted for Best Book for her collection of short stories titled The Thing Around Your Neck. She had in 2005 won Best First Book overall prize with her novel, Purple Hibiscus.

Kachi A. Ozumba, author of The Shadow of a Smile and Abidemi Sanusi, author of Eyo are two UK-based Nigerian authors who have also been shortlisted for Best Book and Best First Book respectively.

The Commonwealth Writers' Prize has been considered as one of the world's most important literary awards, presented annually by the Commonwealth Foundation with the support of the Macquarie Group Foundation.

Established in 1987, the prize aims to recognise the best fiction by both established and new writers from Commonwealth countries and ensure these works reach a wider audience outside their countries of origin. Going by the archive of the foundation, almost 200 books have now been recognised with prizes since the scheme began.

The prize aims to discover and promote up-and-coming and under-recognised writers, encourage dialogue and understanding of different cultures. This, it does through reading, and also by sharing compelling stories of human experience.

Chaired by Hon Nicholas Hasluck AM, the prize is fully international in its character, administration and judgement. Each year, prizes for Best Book and Best First Book are awarded in four regions: Africa, Caribbean and Canada, South Asia and Europe and South East Asia and Pacific.

The prize is judged in two phases annually. Entries are assessed by four regional panels made up of three judges. In each of the four regions, two prizes of £1000 are awarded, one for the Best Book and one for the Best First Book. For instance, these eight regional winners will be announced in March 2011. The eight winning books are then considered by a Pan-Commonwealth jury, which will meet as part of the prize final programme in a commonwealth country in May 2011 to choose and announce the overall winners for Best Book and Best First Book. The overall Best Book winner is awarded £10,000 and the overall Best First Book winner will go home with £5,000. The eight regional winners will be expected to attend the final programme.

The prize organisers cover the cost of participation in the final programme. The final programme consist of week of readings, discussions, community and public events with the eight winning authors and the judging panel, culminating in the announcement of the Best Book and the Best First Book prizes. Publishers of winning writers are expected to strongly encourage writers to attend the final programme and to take part in publicity activities leading up to it.

Any work of written fiction is eligible for both Best Book and Best First Book awards. That is a novel or collection of short stories with the exception of any work written for children alone. However, the organisers do not consider entries of drama, collection of poetry and graphic novels and there is no restriction on setting, theme or mode. The length of the story is expected to be reasonable and the entry will be considered potent if published between January 1, 2010, and December 31, 2010, for this year's edition. Books published in early years are not eligible. Also books that have been previously published from countries other than the country of the present publisher are not eligible for the competition. E-books will only be honoured for this award if the publisher has earlier contacted the regional chair for clarifications. Before a short story book will be considered for entry, at least, one half of the collection of stories must have been published after January 1, 2006.

To be qualified for the Best First Book, the entry must be the first work of fiction, a novel or collection of short stories, which the writer has published with adult readership in mind. The work must have been written by a citizen of a commonwealth country and the publisher must verify the writer's citizenship before entering the book. Specifically, writers from Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe are automatically disqualified from sending their entries because it is strictly reserved for member of Commonwealth countries. It is however not compulsory for either the writer or the publisher to be based in the commonwealth country before entry can be sent in, so far the issue of citizenship has been confirmed without contentions. Unfortunately, writers from Fiji Island, which has been recently suspended from the Commonwealth countries, are also exempted from the competition.

Unlike other prizes like Nigeria prize for literature, sponsored by the Nigeria LNG, it is compulsory for the writer to be alive on the closing date for entries. No entry will be translated from other languages to English, which has been accepted as the original language for the prizes. Nevertheless, the organisers maintained that the judges have final saying on the eligibility of the writer or the book for the competition. All entries are made by the publishers but self-published books by writers from countries in Africa, Asia, Caribbean, and Pacific Island, may be acceptable while other countries are denied access to this rare consideration.

Entries are acceptable when they are submitted through the region of the writer's Commonwealth citizenship. On the completion of the online entry process, three copies of each book are expected to be sent to the appropriate regional chair and one copy to the prize organisers with the printed confirmation of entry generated by the online entry process. If the books have not been received by the regional chair on the specified submission date they will not be considered. Entry of all books published before November 15, 2010 must be received by regional chair by that date. Any books due to be published between November 15, 2010 and December 31, 2010 must be received by the regional chair on December 31, 2010. The regional chair must be notified earlier or advance proof copies should be sent.

It is forbidden for a writer to enter the same book for both Best Book and Best First Book Prize and books cannot be entered in more than one region. In all regions except Africa, publishers will be restricted to two entries per category per region. In other to encourage more submissions, publishers from Africa can submit three books per category. Publishers are also advised to seek the consent of the author before presenting their works. Entries that are ineligible will not be returned to the writer or publisher.

The entry for this year closed on December 31, 2010.

The annual awards are organised by the Commonwealth Foundation, which describes its initiative as "an exceptional opportunity for new writers to demonstrate their talent and for authors already on the literary scene to strengthen their reputation."

This year's winners will be announced at a ceremony in New Delhi, India, on April 12.

Only four African writers have won the Commonwealth Overall Winner prize since its inception. Nigerian writer, Festus Iyayi received the 1987 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for his book, Heroes becoming the first African writer to ever win this prestigious award. Acclaimed South African author, J. M. Coetzee, was the second winner, receiving the prize in 2000 for his book Disgrace.

Two other writers, Manu Herbstein (South Africa) for his book, Ama, A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, for her book, Purple Hibiscus won the Overall Winner Prize for Best First Book in 2002 and 2005 respectively.

Past Nigerian writers who have won the Best Book Prize include Professor Karen King-Aribisala with her book, The Hangman's Game in 2008; Isidore Okpewho, Tides (1993); Festus Iyayi, Heroes (1988) and Ben Obri, Incidents at the Shrine (1987).

Those who have won in the Best First Book Category from Nigeria include Uwem Akpan, Say You're One of Them (2009); Sade Adeniran Imagine This (2008); Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Purple Hibiscus (2005); Helon Habila, Waiting for an Angel (2003); Funso Aiyejina, The Legend of the Rockhills and Other Stories (2000) and Karen King-Aribisala, Our Wife and Other Stories (1991).

Daily Independent

Related stories: Oprah Winfrey picks Nigerian author Uwem Akpan's "Say You're One of Them" for book club

Chimamanda Adichie on African Voices

Nigeria's Wole Soyinka on CNN's special African Voices

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