Caine Prize 'reviewing its structures' after Baroness Nicholson controversy

Caine Prize 'reviewing its structures' after Baroness Nicholson controversy

The AKO Caine Prize for African Writing has said it is "reviewing our structures" in the wake of the controversy which has seen Baroness Emma Nicholson's honorary role axed at the Booker Prize Foundation. 

Meanwhile Baroness Nicholson has said she has been "saddened and angered" by recent suggestions that she is "transphobic, homophobic, and racist".

Nicholson is the widow of Sir Michael Caine, in whose memory the Caine Prize was established, and is the founding president of the award, as well as a former trustee. Chair of the Prize Ellah Wakatama noted in a statement that the Baroness "has been a staunch supporter of our activities over the 20 years of our existence".

Wakatama said: "We have read many of the most recent comments made by Baroness Nicholson regarding transgender people, and the responses that have resulted, with profound sadness and disappointment. I want it to be clear that the AKO Caine Prize stands firmly in support of the right of each individual to determine and proclaim their own gender identity and its expression. We humbly stand alongside our LGBTQI sisters, brothers, and siblings in the battle for equality and actively support each individual’s right to respect and, where necessary, to protection and sanctuary from the harm that misgendering and intolerance cause, and from the very real threat of social, legislative and physical violence that many LGBTQI people experience around the world, not least on the African continent.

"We are a prize that celebrates the work of writers and these themes—of equality and dignity especially as regards to sexuality and gender identity—are ones that recur in the shortlist and winning titles of our prize now and in our history. While each person has a right to their own point of view, we believe that along with that right comes the responsibility to do no harm. We are unequivocal in our intolerance of homophobia, transphobia and racism."

She concluded: "Along with my fellow trustees, I have shared this response, and the equality statement we issued yesterday, with our founding president and we will be reviewing our structures to ensure that all who speak for the prize uphold those stated values."

In a statement, Baroness Nicholson said: "It has recently been suggested, in the media and elsewhere, that I am transphobic, homophobic, and racist.

"I am both saddened and angered by this; such suggestions could not be further from the truth, and run contrary to my lifetime commitment to promote equality and diversity, both in the UK and around the world. I am a feminist, in the broadest sense of the word, and I support the rights of all people to live their lives as they choose, free from bias or prejudice.

"I have expressed myself casually,  and in a manner which suggests that I do not support the rights of the LGBQT+ community, to and about Munroe Bergdorf. For this I apologise unreservedly. It was not my intention to cause any hurt or offence to Ms Bergdorf or anyone else, and I retract the comments which I made about her. The point I was attempting to make so clumsily, was about the risk that a small minority of people with malign intentions may seek to use the Trans community as a cover to harm and prey on women and children. This is something that many within the Trans community are concerned about and have also spoken about. I hope to be able to meet Ms Bergdorf to apologise directly, and to learn more about the experiences of LGBQT+ people in the UK, so that I may work from a more informed perspective to promote their rights."

She added: "I am of course upset by the decision of the Booker Prize to disassociate itself from me, and others holding honorary titles, from the organisation. My title was in memorial of my late husband who helped establish the prize and who was dedicated to promoting literary voices from around the world."