Literature is one of the many forms of instruments through which culture expresses itself. Depictions, both in fiction and non-fiction, capture elements from the writer’s environment and bring them to life elsewhere. Not only does it stimulate creative outlets but it also can be an effective vehicle for voicing different opinions and, in cases, sedition. Whilst writers may inspire others to follow in their footsteps, to try to make it in the world of writing, that does not necessarily fulfill all of a writer’s needs.
Writers in Africa have highlighted different causes and issues in their works. The continent, especially West Africa, has produced a remarkable number of promising writers, despite the low levels of literacy in some parts of the region. However, all of that is changing for the better, as more money is being channeled towards education.
Writers, like other artists, need recognition, the best of which comes from peers and reviewers, which has a confidence boosting effect on all up and coming writers. The Etisalat Prize is one such literary laurel sponsored by Etisalat Nigeria. It is reserved for first-time writers from Africa and is awarded for works in fiction. To be eligible for the award, the novel must have been published twenty-four months prior to the nomination deadline. Only book-length works are acceptable, hence short stories and poems are not eligible for the award.
A panel of esteemed experts select the nominees from a large pool of distinguished novels. The longlist for the prize, usually comprises of nine books, spanning writers from all over the continent.
This year’s panel, which adjudicates the prize, is comprised of Helon Habila, Elinor Sisulu and Edwige Rene Dro. The panel will undergo further deliberations until they reach a shortlist of three books which is announced every December. This year two Nigerians and one South African have been shortlisted. ‘And After Many Days’ by Jowhor Ile, ‘Mr. and Mrs. Doctor’ by Julie Iromuanya and ‘The Seed Thief’ by Jacqui L’Ange will be vying for the Etisalat Prize, whose winner will be declared in March 2017.
Any peer reviewed prize is an award of superior achievement bestowed by the leading personalities of that area and hence is in a sense above any form of recompense, however the prize is composed of more than just a certificate. Winners are awarded a cheque of £15,000 along with an engraved Montblanc Meisterstuck pen and an Etisalat sponsored fellowship at the University of East Anglia where they are placed under the tutelage of Prof. Giles Foden, an accomplished author whose famous work The Last King of Scotland was adapted into a feature film.
Etisalat Nigeria, via its CEO lauded the selection of candidates for the prize and commented on how they represent a spectrum of voices from various cultures across Africa. They display issues of both a societal and personal nature that need to be translated into a long ranging discourse.