Nigerian writer Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor has won the prestigious Short Story Day Africa Prize for his story ‘All Our Lives’.
The prize is worth $800 (about R10,000) and open to any African citizen or African person living in the diaspora. This is the first time in the prize’s five-year history that a male writer has won.
This year, for the first time, two stories have jointly been awarded second place: Agazit Abate’s ‘The Piano Player’ and Michael Yee’s ‘God Skin’.
This year’s prize theme is ‘ID’, the abbreviation for ‘identity’ as well as the psychoanalytic construct of the ‘Id’, and prize adjudicators sought ‘innovative short fiction exploring identity, especially (but not limited to) the themes of gender identity and sexuality’.
The winning stories will be available to read online in the next issue of The Johannesburg Review of Books, out 2 July.
Okafor was previously longlisted for the Short Story Day Africa Prize, in 2016. His work has appeared in The Guardian, Litro, Harvard University’s Transition, Warscapes, Columbia Journal, and elsewhere. His writing was shortlisted for the 2017 Awele Creative Trust award, the 2016 Problem House Press Short Story Prize and the 2016 Southern Pacific Review Short Story Prize. He is a two-time recipient of the Festus Iyayi Award for Excellence for Prose/Playwriting, and is currently a 2018 Kathy Fish fellow and writer-in-residence at Smoke-Long Quarterly.
‘All Our Lives’ is a story that traces multiple identities, examining the lives of disaffected men who drift into Nigerian cities in pursuit of a ‘better life’. The judges described the story as ‘wry, cleared-eyed, humorous and compassionate’.
Judges described the ‘The Piano Player’ as ‘a brilliant inversion of the “African abroad” narrative, as it presents snapshots of life in Addis Abada through the eyes and ears of a pianist in a luxury hotel bar’. ‘God Skin’, the judges said, ‘weaves together alienation, forbidden love and intimate violence against a subtle backdrop of the scars of Liberia’s civil war’.
Abate describes herself as ‘the daughter of immigrants and storytellers’. She was raised in Los Angeles, and writes and lives in Addis Ababa.
Yee is a South African writer born in Pretoria. His writing has appeared in the Short.Sharp.Stories anthologies Incredible Journey and Trade Secrets.
Agazit and Michael will each receive $150, a fifty per cent split of the prize money allocated for second and third place.
The winning stories will be published in ID: New Short Fiction from Africa, edited by Helen Moffett, Nebila Abdulmelik and Otieno Owino, along with all twenty-one longlisted stories from the 2017 edition of the prize. The book will be available as an ebook in Africa later today. ID is co-published by Short Story Day Africa and New Internationalist.