[The JRB Daily] ‘Emotional, intellectual and literary depth’—shortlist announced for the 2023 Island Prize for a Debut Novel from Africa

Image: Aganaba, Jesudubami Jemima; Reem Gaafar; Andile MaShandu Cele

The shortlist for the 2023 Island Prize for a Debut Novel from Africa has been announced, featuring writers from Nigeria, Sudan and South Africa.

This literary prize, founded by Karen Jennings, author of the Booker Prize-longlisted novel An Island and now in its second year, 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.

‘Despite an incredibly strong longlist and a long deliberation process, these entries were chosen unanimously by the judges’, the prize organisers say. ‘These are three promising and exciting writers from three different countries, across the continent and with very different subject matter. However, what they all share is emotional, intellectual and literary depth.’

2023 Island Prize shortlist

  • Bobo Hamham, Aganaba, Jesudubami Jemima
    A Nigerian story told through the eyes of three children and their devastating encounters with terrorism. A story of class, missed connections and the frail innocence of youth.
  • A Mouth Full of Salt, Reem Gaafar
    During the search for a drowned boy in the North of Sudan, a strange woman appears and with her a series of strange and tragic events. Animals die of a mysterious illness; the date tree field catches fire and burns to the ground; a young girl dies. The women in this story are trapped in a gender and racial hierarchy, with ingrained bigotry blaming all change in society on evil outside forces.
  • Braids and Migraines, Andile MaShandu Cele
    In Braids and Migraines, siblings Bhutiwakhe and Nomandla Mkhize are faced with yet another crisis in their lives; this time, Nomandla has been expelled from a prestigious school in KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, where she is currently doing her final year. Bhutiwakhe is ten years older than Nomandla and has for the past four years played a parental role in his sister’s life. A story of family, mental health and a brewing movement.

The winner and runners up will be awarded £500 (about R11,000) and £200 (about R4,500), respectively, and will receive detailed editorial feedback, mentorship from industry professionals, and be read by UK and US agents.

More about the shortlisted writers:

Aganaba, Jesudubami Jemima, Bobo Hamham (Nigeria)

Aganaba, Jesudubami Jemima is a young Bayelsan with a passion for stories. She studied English and Literary Studies at Niger Delta University. Jemima also loves children, soulful music and eccentric fashion. Her works have been published by F-bom, Kalahari Review, Creative Freelance Writerz; Coloured; and Go the Way Your Blood Beats; (both anthologies), and Michael Afenfia’s ‘Write Now 2018’. To get a feel for her work, take a look at her website.

Reem Gaafar, A Mouth Full of Salt (Sudan)

Reem Gaafar is a public health physician, writer, researcher, filmmaker and mother of three boys. Over the years she accumulated nearly two hundred publications including blog posts, peer-reviewed and magazine articles, short stories, policy briefs and book contributions. Her fiction and non-fiction writing has appeared in African Arguments, African Feminism, Teakisi Magazine, Andariya, 500 Words Magazine, International Health Policies and Health Systems Global. Her short story ‘Light of the Desert’ was published in the anthology I Know Two Sudans by Gippings Press UK and was awarded an Honorable Mention, and her second short story ‘Finding Decartes’ was published in the anthology Relations: An Anthology of African and Diaspora Voices by HarperVia. She was shortlisted for the Miles Morland Foundation Scholarship in 2020. More on her work can be seen here.

Andile Mashandu Cele, Braids and Migraines (South Africa)

Andile Mashandu Cele is a writer and communications consultant from South Africa. She was born in Stanger in KwaZulu-Natal. She grew up on a farm, where her mother worked as a domestic worker for a farming family. She then left what she had always known as home to pursue her post secondary education in Pretoria. There she joined a campus poetry group. She has a BTech in Journalism from the Tshwane University of Technology, a BA in Creative Writing and BA (Hons) Theory of Literature from the University of South Africa.

Last year’s winner of The Island Prize was South African writer Sarah Isaacs, for her manuscript ‘Glass Towers’.

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