The fluidity of identity is not lost on literature coming out of the African continent today. New layers of identity—the conception and imagination thereof—are continuously being unpacked. Over the past two weeks, I have delved into a trove of nuanced, informative, inspiring and stimulating conversations with the shortlisted writers of the 2021 Afritondo prize. This year’s prize, themed around Identity, received 363 submissions, longlisted to 16, thereafter, shortlisted to the 5 brilliant stories whose writers I have conversed with in this series. Their names, story titles and nationalities are below:
THE PRAYER, THE HOPE, AND THE ANTHEM (OR, THE FALL SO FAR) – Rémy Ngamije (Namibia)
COLLECTOR OF MEMORIES – Joshua Chizoma (Nigeria)
ETHIO-CUBANO – Desta Haile (UK/Eritrea) – Winner
HUMAN CITIES – Justin Clement (Nigeria)
GRACIOUS – Faraaz Mahomed (South Africa)
In my conversations with these five writers, we bridged gaps between the literary and the non-literary, the self and the other, the real and the imagined, going back in time, looking at the present, and then, to the future.
My dialogue with Rémy covered the writing process behind his shortlisted story, his 2020 Afritondo longlisted story, his present work at Doek!, his muses, and his outlook on the future.
Joshua and I took off from our shared roots in Aba, Nigeria, the setting for his shortlisted story. We unpacked the inspiration behind the story, rootedness and validation to a writer, memory and curation of self.
Desta and I explored the melange in her winning story, the many pieces of history, art and culture redolent, her writing process, her work in Languages through Music, home and travel.
Justin and I unpacked his speculative story in the shortlist, the place of memory in identity, the place of speculative fiction in literature on the continent, perspective…we sank into perspective.
With Faraaz, we delved into the salient themes broached by his writings over the years. We unpacked fragility, relatability, the navigation of “inner” and “outer” worlds in literature.
I left these conversations full, and awakened to the beautiful variety in writing and thought across the continent today. I hope that as readers partake in this shared searching and reimagining, we get to further expand our frames of reference on what it means to be, to write, to see, and to live.
To learn more about the writers and the stories they submitted for the Afritondo Short Story Prize, read here.
Chisom Okwara is a Nigerian writer and interviewer. She writes essays and travelogues (with publications in the Question Marker, Thrive Global and Popula) and hopes to get back to writing fiction soon. She participated in British Council’s Future News Worldwide Conference for young student journalists in 2019. Currently, she is a full-time Project Coordinator at SoCha LLC.