2021 James Currey Prize for African Literature: Conversations with Shortlisted Writers



I can’t remember where I read this, but apparently we often don’t know what we are thinking (or why we are thinking it) until we read about it. This seemed like such an odd idea when I discovered it, and yet it has proved true for me on so many levels. Encounters with other people’s writing (the central ideas therein, and the conditions that nourish it) are therefore very important to me because they help clarify many things, especially my thoughts.

For the better part of this year, I’ve been obsessing over several variations of three questions: Why write at all? Why write a novel? Why should writers speak about their work? Naturally, there is always a writer whose response to one or all of those questions interests me more than mine currently does:

“…my hope with these assays is that I gift more people with their language, and their worlds, turned inside out but righted all the same. This is the joy many other artists continue to give me.” — Alexis Teyie.

Until I can think [unaided] of responses like that, o joy!, I must continue to [un]learn! 

I am grateful for my interactions with the writers shortlisted for the James Currey Prize for Literature, for all the ways in which they’ve offered opportunities to [un]learn and to think through what it means to better explain the world—and the writer-reader relationship—to myself. 

While there are clear differences in backgrounds, styles, and treatments of subject matter, there are nevertheless autobiographical, psychological, anthropological, and political connections that link the manuscripts together. These connections are explored in conversations which will be shared here, at Africa in Dialogue, a day at a time, from the 4th to the 8th of September, 2021.

Below are the titles of the manuscripts, the names of the writers, and their nationalities: 

“And Then He Sang A Lullaby” — Ani Kayode Somtochukwu (Nigeria)

“A Reign of Terror” — Ntando Gerald (Zimbabwe)

“The Masses on Ashes” — Okwudiri Job (Nigeria)

“The Rage of Lambs” — Solomon Kobina Aremu (Ghana)

“Bones & Runes” — Stephen Embleton (South Africa)

More information about the James Currey Prize for African Literature and the shortlisted writers can be found here.

Many thanks to Warren Jeremy Rourke and Nkateko Masinga for facilitating the interview process.

2021 James Currey Prize
James Currey Prize Series Curator - Davina

Davina was born in a university teaching hospital in Lusaka and raised on the grounds of Uganda’s oldest university in Kampala (from where she would later receive a BSc in Botany and Zoology and a PGDE in biological sciences). Her MSc (Zoology) research assessed the abundance and richness of forest-dependent birds in two tropical lowland rainforest fragments in central Uganda. 

She writes poetry and short fiction for children and adults. Her short stories, Of Birds and Bees and Touch Me Not, were short-listed for the 2018 Short Story Day Africa Prize and the 2020 Afritondo Short Story Prize respectively.

She’s interested in the intersection between literature and science, will read anything with an arresting title, and writes about topics that interest her. 

She’s writing her first novel, The Other Side of Day.

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