[The JRB Daily] ‘An incandescent story’—Kenyan writer Idza Luhumyo wins 2022 Caine Prize for African Writing

Kenyan writer Idza Luhumyo’s has been awarded the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story ‘Five Years Next Sunday’.

The winner was announced by Ndibe at an award ceremony at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, United Kingdom.

Luhumyo beat 267 eligible entries to the £10,000 (about R205,000) prize in a record year of submissions.

Okey Ndibe, chair of this year’s judging panel, called Luhumyo’s piece ‘an incandescent story’ adding: ‘its exquisite language wedded to the deeply moving drama of a protagonist whose mystical office invites animus at every turn’.

Luhumyo is the fifth Kenyan writer to win the award, after Binyavanga Wainaina (2002), Yvonne Owuor (2003), Okwiri Oduor (2014) and Makena Onjerika (2018)

‘Five Years Next Sunday’, which won the 2021 Short Story Day Africa Prize and was published in the prize anthology Disruption (and, exclusively, digitally on The JRB), is a story about a young woman with the unique power to call the rain in her hair. Feared by her family and community, a chance encounter with a foreigner changes her fortunes, but there are duplicitous designs upon her most prized and vulnerable possession.

Judging the Prize alongside Ndibe this year were French-Guinean author and academic Elisa Diallo, South African literary curator and co-founder of The Cheeky Natives Letlhogonolo Mokgoroane, UK-based Nigerian visual artist Ade ‘Àsìkò’ Okelarin and Kenyan co-founder of the Book Bunk Angela Wachuka.

Ndibe said:

‘What we liked about the story was the mystical office of the protagonist, who is both ostracised and yet holds the fate of her community in her hair. She is stripped of agency by her immediate family, as well as the Europeans who give the impression of placing her on a pedestal, yet within that seeming absence of agency, and oppressive world, is her stubborn reclamation of herself. The dramatic tension in the story is so powerful and palpable that it’s like something you could cut with a knife.’

Luhumyo will be published in the 2022 Caine Prize anthology later this year by Cassava Republic Press, along with the other shortlisted writers.

The 2022 judging panel also spoke highly of the other writers on the shortlist, Joshua Chizoma, Nana-Ama Danquah, Hannah Giorgis and Billie McTernan, commending their stories for the quality of writing and variety of genre. Mokgoroane and Diallo applauded the diversity of genres, while Ndibe added that there was ‘a sense of the genius in the other contenders’. Okelarin said the stories were ‘well written and emotionally resonant’, and Wachuka praised the inclusion of writers who are also editors (Danquah edited the Accra Noir anthology which featured Danquah’s and McTernan’s story).

Speaking of the Caine Prize, Wachuka said: ‘The historic import of the prize on writers’ trajectories has ranged from the formation of literary entities, to unmatched global visibility, and opportunities including publishing deals and writing fellowships. I am honoured to have worked with such a formidable group of judges to contribute to the expansion of craft and our publishing ecology.’

The winning story and the rest of the shortlisted entries can be read on the Caine Prize website here.

Last year’s Caine Prize winner was Ethiopian–American writer Meron Hadero, for her short story ‘The Street Sweep’.

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