This was the moment South African author, Kopano Matlwa found out she is a joint winner of the 2010 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. The honour - for Matlwa's novel, Coconut (published by Jacana, SA), was announced last night at the grand award ceremony, held at the Civic Centre in Lagos. The South African shares the $20,000 prize with Nigerian author Wale Okediran (who won for his novel, Tenants of the House). The third shortlisted writer, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani, went without. Nwaubani had already won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for the Best First Book (Africa Region) for her much talked about novel, I Do Not Come To You By Chance.
Organised by the Lumina Foundation (founded by writer Ogochukwu Promise), it was a grand event all right, but one bedevilled by dreadfully freakish, deafening feedback from the sound equipment, such that speakers often had to address the large hall without a microphone. But the award ceremony soldiered on regardless. The Crown Troupe of Africa (led by its founder Segun Adefila) provided most of the entertainment for the night. Amongst many performances, the Crown Troupe did opening segments of 2 Wole Soyinka plays: Death and the King's Horseman and The Trials of Brother Jero. The opening (church) scene of Jero was hilarious and brought the house down. Even Soyinka could be seen laughing where he sat.
Thankfully, unlike some Nigerian prizes whose award galas are dominated by useless politicians, only literary figures and, to a lesser extent, business people were given prominence at the WS award night; and the most distinguished guest of course was the man after whom the award is named.
"Thank you, Franco," said Wole Soyinka, when called by Francesca Emmanuel (member of the board of trustees for the Lumina) to speak. "I thought I'd just come here an sit down and be an icon. Icons don't make speeches," said WS. After complaining about Nigerian cameramen at events like this who don't take their shots and move on but block people's views, Soyinka humorously suggested guests use their dinner forks to poke "the soft backside of a cameraman."
More seriously, Kongi expressed concerns about Africa-wide prizes administered in Nigeria being constantly won by Nigerians. The first Wole Soyinka Prize (held 6 August 2006) was won by Sefi Atta, the second (2 February 2008) was won by Nnedi Okorafor. Soyinka noted that he was involved in an international painting competition administered from Lagos as part of the Black Heritage Festival earlier this month, and a Nigerian won that too. "It's embarrassing," he said, wondering if our style with political results was now creeping into the creative arena. He recalled judging a literature competition (names of writers withheld from him) only for the organisers to come back to alert him to the fact that a Nigerian was not among the winners. I imagine WS probably replying, "So what?"
To Okediran in the audience, the Nobel laureate said, "Wale, I'm sorry, but I hope you don't win tonight." Soyinka made clear that he has no involvement in the organisation or the judging of the WS Prize; his one commitment is to always - as long as he is able, even if on walking stick - turn up to present the prize to the winner (I guess every two years now, going by the regularity of the WS prize so far).
Anyway, Soyinka's message got through loud and clear at the Civic Centre: you can't have a Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa - won over and over again by Nigerians only. The press has also been highlighting the fact that the winners until this year, had been women - was it a women only prize? Quite what bearing any of this had on the eventual 2010 result of winners as announced by Chair of the judges, Olu Obafemi, may be debated. Other judges were: Id Shabbir (Algeria), Liesle Louw (South Africa), Sidaho Makubho (Cote D'Ivoire) and Solomon Mensah (Ghana).
Kopano Matlwa and Wale Okediran were jointly presented the $20,000 cheque by Wole Soyinka.
- Images by MW