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The Winners of the Penguin Prizes for African Writing

Penguin Prize for African Writing

On Saturday, 4 September 2010, Penguin Books announced the non-fiction and fiction winners of the inaugural Penguin Prize for African Writing. This award seeks to highlight the diverse writing talent on the African continent and make new African fiction and non-fiction available to a wider readership. The authors win R50 000 each and publication by Penguin South Africa.

“We were overwhelmed by the number of entries for these two awards and, after hearing fromthe judges and readers who read the submissions, encouraged by the writing talentcoming out of our continent. Congratulations to the two worthy winners.”

–Alison Lowry, CEO, Penguin Books South Africa

The Winner – Non-Fiction

  • Pius Adesanmi for You’re Not a Country, Africa!

In this groundbreaking collection of essays Pius Adesanmi tries to unravel what it is that Africa means to him as an African, and by extension to all those who inhabit this continent of extremes. This is a question that exercised some of the continent’s finest minds in the twentieth century, but which pan-Africanism, Negritude,nationalism, decolonisation and all the other projects through which Africans sought to restore their humanity ultimately failed to answer. Crisscrossing the continent, Adesanmi engages with the enigma that is Africa in an attempt to make meaning of this question for all twenty-first century Africans.

Pius Adesanmi was born in Nigeria but now lives in Ottowa, Canada.

The Winner – Fiction

  • Ellen Banda-Aaku for Patchwork

Destined from birth to inhabit two very different worlds – that of her father, the wealthy Joseph Sakavungo,and that of her mother, his mistress – this emotive tale takes us to the heart of a young girl’s attempts to come to terms with her own identity and fashion a future for herself from the patchwork of the life she was born into. Beautifully constructed, warm and wise, this is a novel that will transport the reader to a world in which we can all become more of the sum of our parts.

Ellen Banda-Aaku was born in Zambia and now resides in London, England.

Pius Adesanmi

Congratulations to both authors! We look forward to bringing you their works.

Our official statement:

    Adorned with lanterns, Il Giardino degli Ulivi restaurant made for relaxed mingling on a perfect spring evening. The enchanting Stanley Avenue by night was the setting for The Penguin Prize for African Writing ceremony on Saturday 4th September.

    The use of Penguin’s orange and black theme colours ensured the venue interior was lively, warm and modern African in essence. Writers’ whose books form part of the Penguin African Writers Series were not forgotten, and, in a touch of genius, these books were turned into artistic displays further illustrating the theme of Africa and literature. A four-piece band provided the light background music that, ironically, created the air of being on a piazza in a European city.

    Alison Lowry, CEO of Penguin Books South Africa opened the proceedings after allowing guests to mingle and soak up some atmosphere, and introduced the keynote speaker, Kole Omotoso.

    Omotoso, popularly known as the “Yebo Gogo man” from Vodacom advertisements is a Nigerian writer and intellectual. He has been a professor in English at the University of the Western Cape and is a professor of Drama at the University of Stellenbosch. As the author of Just before Dawn, a controversial historical novel of Nigeria which led him to leave his home country for South Africa, having Omotoso speak at this event was both relevant and well-timed. Known for his insightful socio-political appraisals of Africa, Omotoso made a hard-hitting speech about freedom of speech and expression, and the lengths to which governments will go to repress it. He argued that the biggest mistake that post-colonial African citizens make is to believe that their liberation governments will be any different from their previous oppressors. “Somehow we thought that Africans in power would be different…Yet our government is not our government. Our silence is their greatest power – the power that keeps governments in power forever. We must not give them that power”.

    Omotoso’s address added a certain gravitas to the event, reminding guests of the significant impact writing has had, and should continue to have on the continent.

    On that note, Alison Lowry announced the winners of the Penguin Prize for African Writing. Pius Adesanmi from Nigeria walked away with the non-fiction prize and Zambian author Ellen Aaku with the fiction prize. Both were suitably thrilled with the knowledge that they had just secured publishing contracts with Penguin and a cash prize of R50 000 each.

    The rest of the evening proved equally festive as Il Giardino degli Ulivi served up a feast of platters, ensuring that no-one was in a rush to leave.

    The Penguin Prize for African Writing recognises fresh, new voices from the African continent and this event very successfully reflected that. Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors, the winners and to Penguin for organising a stellar occasion.

Ellen Aaku


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