[The JRB Daily] Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ announced as winner of 9mobile Prize for Literature for her debut novel Stay With Me

Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ has won the 2018 9mobile Prize for Literature, for her novel Stay With Me.

The award announcement has been a long time coming (see below), and recently the future of the prize has been in doubt. 9mobile, however, reiterated its commitment to the prize at the award ceremony.

The 9mobile Prize celebrates debut African writers of published fiction, and the winner takes home £15,000 (about R275,000). The prize also includes an engraved Montblanc Meisterstück pen and an Etisalat Fellowship at the University of East Anglia, under the mentorship of Professor Giles Foden, author of The Last King of Scotland.

Adébáyọ̀ was shortlisted alongside Lesley Nneka Arimah, for What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, and Marcus Low, for Asylum.

‘It’s unexpected,’ Adébáyọ̀ said of her win. ‘I’m surprised not just in terms of winning the prize itself, because it was a very strong shortlist. The other books were very amazing. Lesley Arimah’s collection of short stories, I think, is one of the best books that was published that year. Marcus Low’s Asylum is also really brilliant. So, it’s surprising to win the prize. I’m shocked.’

Adébáyọ̀’s win was announced by her publisher in Nigeria, Ouida Books:

Adébáyọ̀ received the award at the 9mobile headquarters in Banana Island, Lagos, Nigeria.

The judges for the 2018 edition of the award, Professor Harry Garuba (chair), Doreen Baingana and Siphiwo Mahala, were unanimous in their decision.

The shortlist for the 2018 9mobile Prize was announced back in January 2018. A winner was expected to be revealed in May of that year, but communication from the prize organisers ceased in June, and the shortlisted writers, and their publishers, were given no indication of when a winner would be announced, or whether they would still be awarded the £15,000 prize money.

When a winner had still not been chosen in June this year, The JRB wrote a report pointing out the lapse.

9mobile subsequently sent out a press release in July, stating that the winner of the 2018 edition of the award would be announced ‘soon’, without giving further details.

The day after that statement, The JRB received communication from the 9mobile Prize Board of Patrons, indicating their resignation ‘with immediate effect’.

The Patrons, including the literary luminaries Ama Ata Aidoo, Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, Margaret Busby, Sarah Ladipo Manyika, Zakes Mda and Dele Olojede, expressed ‘dismay and sadness’ at how the prize, which was ‘fast becoming an institution’, had ‘been allowed to disappear without any announcement or explanation from the sponsors’.

At the award announcement, Abdulrahman Ado, executive director of regulatory and corporate affairs at 9mobile, asserted that the company had no intention of abandoning the 9mobile Prize. ‘We will continue our sponsorship of the prize,’ he said. ‘It will continue; I assure you it’s not sunset.’

The award was launched in 2013 as the Etisalat Prize for Literature, founded by telecommunications company Etisalat Nigeria, to great fanfare, and in succeeding years became one of the most respected awards on the continent, with winners including NoViolet Bulawayo (We Need New Names), Songeziwe Mahlangu (Penumbra), Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Tram 83) and Jowhor Ile (And After Many Days). In August 2017, Etisalat Nigeria renamed itself 9mobile, and the award’s name changed at the same time.

Past winners of the 9mobile Prize received, in addition to the £15,000 prize money, a book tour to three African cities, while 9mobile pledged to buy 1,000 copies of each shortlisted book, and the shortlisted authors were also rewarded with a book tour. It is unclear whether these aspects of the prize will still be fulfilled by 9mobile.

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