[The JRB Daily] Island Prize for a Debut Novel from Africa call for submissions

Submissions for the second annual Island Prize for a Debut Novel from Africa are now open.

This literary prize, founded by Karen Jennings, author of the Booker Prize-longlisted novel An Island, is open to debut African novelists, curated with the primary aim of helping African writers reach a wider audience and break into the United Kingdom publishing scene.

The prize is open to entries from across any and all genres.

Winners and runners up will receive £500 and £200 respectively, as well as in-depth editorial attention to their manuscript and mentoring from industry professionals.

Shortlisted writers will have their work read by publishers and agents in the UK and United States.

In addition, this year there is a £200 prize for the top entry from a writer from the Maghreb region. This has been initiated by last year’s runner up, Hamza Koudri, who has donated his winnings to this cause.

‘Just like I have been lucky to receive the support of The Island Prize team, it would give me immense pleasure to pay it forward and help at least one young author on their journey to publication,’ Koudri says.

Sarah Isaacs, whose first novel, Glass Tower, won the inaugural edition of the prize, is now represented by the Annette Green Agency. Annette Green said: ‘I was struck by Sarah’s lightness of touch in her writing, her ability to handle the novel’s big themes—racial tension, sexual abuse—with an extraordinary deftness and honesty. The heat of Durban rises from the page in this riveting story of a family coming together, as they navigate their individual struggles and personal turmoil.’

According to Holland House Books, the first year of The Island Prize ‘exceeded all expectations’:

‘We received over 120 entries from all over the continent, a fine and diverse long list, and then an excellent shortlist. The winner already has a UK agent as a direct result of the prize, and three books have been offered publishing contracts. The competition has aroused much interest in the UK, and we expect even more this year. This is an exciting and unique opportunity for writers to get their work seen and published overseas, and we are eager to receive submissions.’

Jennings says: ‘As African writers, we are often faced with a double dose of challenges. First, getting published within African countries can be incredibly difficult because local publishers are often constrained by finances. Second, for many writers getting published overseas is almost impossible because the rest of the world has certain ideas of what an African story should be.

‘Having experienced these challenges first hand—being told that a novel is “too African” or “not African enough”—I know how important it is that stories from Africa be given a wide variety of platforms so that they can be shared at home and abroad without the need to fit certain moulds.

‘I am proud to be part of The Island Prize—a competition where the judges are African and where the winners have an opportunity of being published both in the UK and in South Africa. This is one step towards bridging the gap between here and there, us and them. In fact, it is through prizes like these that authors across the continent can gain the confidence to tell stories as they wish. The hope is that, with time, such stories will become appreciated across the globe, without first being labelled as an exception or a surprise.’

This year’s Island Prize judges are Jennings; Rachel Edwards, a British writer of Jamaican and Nigerian heritage; and previous shortlistee Koudri.

How to enter:

Writers must send the opening three chapters/10,000 words of a finished novel, along with a short synopsis, to submissions@theislandprize.com.

Longlisted entries will then be invited to submit a full manuscript.

Writers must be from any African country to apply.

Submissions close on midnight on Friday 6 January, 2023 (Central African Time).

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