Makena Onjerika, a Kenyan writer, has won the 2018 Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story “Fanta Blackcurrant”.
Narrated in the first person plural, “Fanta Blackcurrant” follows Meri, a street child of Nairobi, who makes a living using her natural intelligence and charisma, but wants nothing more than ‘a big Fanta Blackcurrant for her to drink every day and it never finish”. While it seems Meri’s natural wit may enable her to escape the streets, days follow days and years follow years, and having turned to the sex trade, she finds herself pregnant. Her success stealing from Nairobi’s business women attracts the attention of local criminals, who beat her and leave her for dead. After a long recovery, Meri ‘crossed the river and then we do not know where she went’.
The story was published in the 2017 Spring edition of Wasafiri, a UK literary magazine.
Makena was announced the winner at an award dinner on July 2 by award winning Ethiopian-American novelist and writer, Dinaw Mengestu, the chairman of the judges. Mengestu praised the story in his remarks, saying,“the winner of this year’s Caine Prize is as fierce as they come – a narrative forged but not defined by the streets of Nairobi, a story that stands as more than just witness. Makena Onjerika’s ‘Fanta Blackcurrant’ presides over a grammar and architecture of its own making, one that eschews any trace of sentimentality in favour of a narrative that is haunting in its humour, sorrow and intimacy”.
The Caine Prize for African Writing is a registered charity whose aim is to bring African writing to a wider audience using their annual literary award. In addition to administering the Prize, they work to connect readers with African writers through a series of public events, as well as helping emerging writers in Africa to enter the world of mainstream publishing through the annual Caine Prize writers’ workshop which takes place in a different African country each year.
The prize comes with a £10,000 (Sh1.3 million) award.
Makena is a graduate of the MFA Creative Writing programme at New York University, and has been published in Urban Confusions and Wasafiri. She is currently working on a fantasy novel. She was among four other finalist; Nonyelum Ekwempu (Nigeria), Stacy Hardy (South Africa), Olufunke Ogundimu (Nigeria) and Wole Talabi (Nigeria).
The 2017 award was won by Sudanese writer and poet Bushra al-Fadil for his short story “The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away”.
Other winners in the past seven competitions are: South Africa’s Lidudumalingani (2016), Zambia’s Namwali Serpell (2015), Kenya’s Okwiri Oduor (2014), Nigeria’s Tope Folarin (2013), Nigeria’s Rotimi Babatunde (2012), Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo (2011) and Sierra Leone’s Olufemi Terry.
The ceremony was held for the second time in Senate House, in partnership with SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies) University of London and the Centre for African Studies.