Sunday, August 29, 2021 6:07 pm
By Nehru Odeh
Literary buffs are throbbing with excitement as they await, with bated breath, the announcement of the winner of this year’s edition of the Nigeria Prize for Literature. The annual literary prize, which is always presented in October each year, is sponsored by the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas, NLNG, and worth 100,000 US dollars
The three novels shortlisted for this years’s award are Abi Dare’s The Girl with Louding Voice, Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s The Son of the House and Obinna Udenwe’s Colours of Hatred.
The judges, while announcing the shortlist on 27 August, described the novels as full of suspense and intrigue. They stated that the novels “tell human and indeed universal stories of rural as against urban life, suffering and survival, loss and redemption, decline and renaissance, destruction and reconstruction, and death and rebirth.”
However, one thing that is unique about this year’s shortlist and which made the writers stand out, according to Akachi Adimora-Ezeigbo, Professor of English and chair of the Advisory board is that: “All three novels centre on strong female characters, different unravelling circumstances and experiences of women in the modern world.”
And this is significant enough as not only is it a departure from the male-dominated plots and storylines that characterize African fiction, it shows that women are indeed making their presence felt in every field of human endeavour and their voices are being heard; what with the rise of feminism and the #Metoo movement that is gaining momentum globally.
The Girl with the Louding Voice tells the story of a girl-child from a first-person narrative mode. It unravels the plight of Adunni, a girl-child, who was forced out of poverty to marry at an early age to an elderly polygamous man. Her marriage to the man was for her to raise funds for her father’s survival. Thus the novel also tackles the issue of early marriage, child sexual abuse, childlessness in marriage, and domestic violence; on the other, the urgent need for female bonding or sisterhood in transcending the constraints in the life of women.
The Son of the House is a profoundly unconventional novel that portrays the lives of two women in different worlds whose paths crossed during captivity. But they soon realised their path had earlier crossed at various points. The stories of Nwabulu, a one-time housemaid and now a successful fashion designer, and Julie, an educated woman who lived through tricks, deceits, and manipulations, are told through a mosaic plot structure against the backdrop of modernity and traditional patriarchy, poverty, and neglect.
Colours of Hatred is a confessional tale, centred around the protagonist, Leona of the Dinka tribe, who ended up killing of her father-in-law. The novel is a whodunit that explores love, hatred, war, revenge, oppression, extra-judicial killings, military rule, displacement, and exile with attendant tensions that leave lasting emotional scars through introspection and re-telling of the story.
The chairperson of the panel of judges, Professor Olutoyin Jegede, is a Professor of Literature in English at the University of Ibadan. Other panel members include Professor Tanimu Abubakar, a Professor of Literature in the Faculty of Art, Ahmadu Bello University, and Dr. Solomon Azumurana, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Lagos.
The Advisory Board also announced the appointment of the International Consultant for this year’s prize, the Zimbabwean author Tsitsi Dangarembga, whose first novel, Nervous Conditions (1988), was hailed as one of the most important novels of the twentieth century and was included in the BBC’s 2018 list of the 100 books that shaped the world. Her 2018 novel, This Mournable Body was longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020. Her plays have been performed at the University of Zimbabwe, and her short musical Kare Kare Zvako, (Mother’s Day, 2005) was screened at Sundance. Her films have also received international recognition.
The award will run concurrently with NLNG’s Prize for Literary Criticism. The literary criticism prize carries a monetary value of ₦1million.
The Nigeria Prize for Literature, Africa’s most prestigious literary award, rotates yearly amongst four literary categories: prose fiction, poetry, drama, and children’s literature.