The winners of the 2018 Brittle Paper Awards have been announced—including Panashe Chigumadzi, for her essay ‘History Through the Body or Rights of Desire, Rights of Conquest’, which was published in The JRB.
The Brittle Paper Awards were established in 2017 to recognise the ‘finest original pieces of writing by Africans published online’. Prize money of $1,100 is split across five categories: the Brittle Paper Award for Fiction ($200), the Brittle Paper Award for Poetry ($200), the Brittle Paper Award for Creative Nonfiction ($200), the Brittle Paper Award for Essays and Think Pieces ($200), and the Brittle Paper Anniversary Award ($300) for writing published on Brittle Paper’s blog.
Thirty-one pieces were shortlisted this year, including five pieces published in The JRB: Chigumadzi, in the Essays and Think Pieces category, Bongani Madondo for ‘A Stranger in “the Village”‘, and Percy Zvomuya for ‘James Baldwin in Rhodesia’.
This year’s winners are Chigumadzi, Shailja Patel, Sibongile Fisher, Itiola Jones and Stacy Hardy.
2018 Brittle Paper Awards winners
The Brittle Paper Award for Creative Nonfiction ($200)
- ‘The Miseducation of Gratitude’, by Sibongile Fisher (South Africa), in Selves: An Afro Anthology of Creative Nonfiction, an independent anthology published by Brittle Paper, and online in Enkare Review
From a group of works—including a mapping project—all of which are either honoring history or figures on the boundary of history or turning an inward gaze towards the self, we unanimously chose Sibongile Fisher’s powerful memoir, ‘The Miseducation of Gratitude’. Fisher’s track-by-track reinterpretation of rapper Lauryn Hill’s 1998 album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill is an autobiography of love, motherhood, family, and wounds. She blends literature and trauma into a musical framework and the result is poetic, soulbreaking, symbolic and, importantly, sure-footed. It is literary confessionality at its most bare.
The Brittle Paper Award for Poetry ($200)
- ‘A Field, any Field’, by Itiola Jones (Nigeria), published in The Offing
From a pool of poems that reconsider bodies, families, relationships, and political developments, we chose Itiola Jones’s ‘A Field, any Field’. In lines shrouded in intimacy, Jones renders an alluring tussle between lovers, between the female persona and her body, between the pull of love and betrayal, and she portrays well the irreducible draw of lust. Her language is memorable and strewn with metaphors. In a sense, it is a declaration of physical self-ownership and responsibility—two lovers doing to each other what lovers do, refreshing an archetypal story.
The Brittle Paper Award for Fiction ($200)
- ‘Involution’, by Stacy Hardy (South Africa), in Migrations: New Short Fiction from Africa, an anthology by Short Story Day Africa, the continent’s most important institution for short fiction
From a set of short stories in which lives are hidden, mourned, distrusted, and accepted, we chose Stacy Hardy’s ‘Involution’. Hardy imbues the female sex organ with poignant agency, making it an incongruous character in her fabulist fiction. In the vein of characters who go on and on and seem incapable of stopping, at the centre of Hardy’s work is a young woman whose curiosity to know her body part is intriguing and sustained. She approaches this dilemma with innovativeness, demonstrating, in a continental culture dominated by a brand of social realism, that fiction can be more than only story.
The Brittle Paper Award for Essays and Think Pieces ($200)
- ‘History Through the Body or Rights of Desire, Rights of Conquest’, by Panashe Chigumadzi (Zimbabwe), in The Johannesburg Review of Books, a new magazine that has significantly expanded the online African literary scene with its rich mix of new writing and critical analyses.
From a class of essays and think pieces—including an interview, that mode of literary conversation often overlooked as a think piece—that inspire rethinks of poetry, books, legacies, and photography, we chose Panashe Chigumadzi’s ‘History Through the Body or Rights of Desire, Rights of Conquest’. Chigumadzi uses literary analysis, history, and memoir to interrogate JM Coetzee’s novel Disgrace, reckoning with race, gender, sex, land and power in South African literature, politics, and everyday living, and the ways in which the novel is suspect in handling those. By finding links between geographical significances and Coetzee’s body of work—even connecting the different Davids in works by Coetzee, Zoe Wicomb, and John Buchan—the racialised atmosphere of South Africa is broken up, and with it the dehumanisation of the black female body by white males, and the black female’s consequent raw fear of white maleness. It is a timely work that leaves us pondering power and privilege.
The Brittle Paper Anniversary Award ($300)
- ‘On Postcolonial Theory’, by Shailja Patel (Kenya), a piece consisting of 14 tweets. At over 63 thousand views and 13,000 Facebook likes, this is the perfect meeting point of viral content and intellectual substance.
From a selection of writing and critiquing in which ideas war, we chose Shailja Patel’s ‘On Postcolonial Theory’. Patel’s relentless critiquing, in reiteration of the irreducible relevance of postcolonial theory following comments by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, merges intersectionality with elements of historical and biographical criticism. It demonstrates, in the midst of its noise, the harnessing of social media as a tool for intellectual intervention and engagement, and in a way that offers as much competence as traditional media.