Africa basks in Booker boost for female writers


Two African women are in the running for the 2020 Booker Prize, in a historic first fort he UK’s most prestigious literary prize – and a major boost for storytellers on the continent.

News that Ethiopian-American Maaza Mengiste, author of The Shadow King, and Zimbabwean Tsitsi Dangarembga, with her novel This Mournable Body, were on the shortlist for the 50,000 pounds award was received with celebration on the African literacy scene.

“The fact that there are two Africans, there are three black people on this list, feels like this is a clarion call to the industry that it is possible to judge something fairly, not fall into tokenism, to judge a work for what it is. It feels like it sets a new path for the competitions,” said Maaza after the announcement that she was on the shortlist of six.

“I have often been the only African, the only black person, on a list; and this time it seems like the judges have thrown down a gauntlet and said that they will judge a book by what’s actually written, and not on the reputation of a writer or the reputation of the power they might have on the industry.”

Maaza and Dangarembga have both participated at perhaps the largest literary festival in Africa, the Ake Festival in Nigeria, which is a major draw for young writers and cash-strapped African publishers who no doubt wonder if they will ever make a breakthrough.

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