Kenya's Okwiri wins but Nigeria still tops Caine Prize table - and women rule it

Since the award’s inception in 2000 winners have come from just 7 of Africa’s 54 countries

Kenya’s Okwiri Oduor this week became the 15th winner of  the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing.  Her winning story entitled My Father’s Head explores the narrator’s difficulty in dealing with the loss of her father and looks at the themes of memory, loss and loneliness.

The Caine Prize for African Writing is an annual literary award for the best original short story by an African writer. It was founded in the United Kingdom in 2000, and was named in memory of Sir Michael Harris Caine.

Since the award’s inception winners have come from just seven of Africa’s 54 countries. Okwiri is the third Kenyan to win the prize after Binyavanga Wainaina in 2002 and Yvonne Adhiambo in 2003. With three Caine Prize wins, Kenya moves into second place on the continent behind Nigeria which holds the most wins with five. South Africa and Zimbabwe come in joint third with two wins each.

Okwiri’s win also means that more African women have won the award than men. Though there have been less women who have been shortlisted for the prize, figures show that of the 48 runners up 28 of them were men, the women have nonetheless been able to seal the deal with eight wins over the men’s seven.

There were some notable mentions in the league of runners up.

Though she did not win the 2002 prize for her short story, You in America, Nigeria’s Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie moved on to one of Africa’s most renowned authors. She has a string of literary victories under her belt; she won the Commonwealth First Book Prize in 2005 for her novel Purple Hibiscus, which was also shortlisted for the Orange Prize in 2004. In 2007 she won the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction, for her second novel Half of a Yellow Sun. Her third novel, Americanah was shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2014. Although the author didn’t win the Caine Prize, it seems its something she no longer misses - i n an interview with the Boston Review she said she “[didn’t] want to talk about the Caine Prize…I suppose it’s a good thing, but for me it’s not the arbiter of the best fiction in Africa. It’s never been.”

Another notable name on the shortlist of runners up was Mia Couto. Shortlisted in 2001, Mozambique’s Couto is one of the most prominent writers in Portuguese-speaking Africa. In 2007, he became the first African author to win the prestigious Latin Union literary prize, which has been awarded annually in Italy since 1990. A number of his books are published in the UK by Serpent’s Tail, including A River Called Time, Under the Frangipani, Sleepwalking Land and Last Flight of the Flamingo. 

This year was also the second time that Kenya’s Billy Kahora was shortlisted for his novel title The Applications. A Caine Prize veteran, Kahora was shortlisted in 2012 for his story Urban Zoning and in 2007 his short story Treadmill Love was highly commended by the 2007 Caine Prize judges. This year he was once again pipped to the post, this time by fellow Kenyan, Okwiri.

Here is the table of Caine Prize Winners: 

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