(GIN)—Nairobi-based author Okwiri Oduor was the highly-acclaimed winner of this year’s prestigious Caine Prize for African writing. The much-awaited selection was announced last week in Oxford, England.
The award carries a prize of 10,000 British pounds (about $17,000) for the 25-year-old Kenyan who was among the top five writers shortlisted for the prize.
Oduor’s story—“My Father’s Head”—is a narration of grief following the death of the narrator’s father as she encounters a priest who counsels her to cherish his memory. She tackles issues regarding memory, loss and loneliness in the backdrop of the old people’s home where she works.
In an interview with Nana-Ana Kyerematin of AfriDiaspora prior to the announcement, she explained its origins.
“I was estranged from my loved ones for a while. I thought of it as being in exile—from home, from them, from myself. During this time, I thought a lot about mortality, about the meaning of home and the spaces that one inhabits while there.”
Panel of judges’ chair Jackie Kay called ‘My Father’s Head’ “an uplifting story about mourning—Joycean in its reach.” Oduor “exercises an extraordinary amount of control and yet the story is subtle, tender and moving. It is a story you want to return to the minute you finish it.”
Nigerian author Ben Okri gave the keynote address with the theme “Freedom.” He recalled the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, noting that their fate hangs over us all. In addition to short story writing, Oduor directed the inaugural Writivism Literary Festival in Kampala, Uganda in August 2013, and penned a novella, The Dream Chasers. She is a 2014 MacDowell Colony fellow and is currently at work on her debut novel.
Described as Africa’s leading literary award, the Caine Prize returns to Kenya after leaving Zimbabwe from multiple award-winning novelist Noviolet Bulawayo in 2011 for her short story Hitting Budapest. The Caine prize is awarded annually for a short story by an African writer published in English.
With this prize, Ms. Oduor may spend up to a month as a writer-in-residence at the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice at Georgetown University in Washington. She will also be invited to the Open Book Festival in Cape Town in September 2014, the Storymoja Hay Festival in Nairobi and the Ake Festival in Nigeria.