Kenyan writer Makena Onjerika has won the 2018 Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story “Fanta Blackcurrant”.
The Chair of the Caine Prize judging panel, Ethiopian-American novelist and writer, Dinaw Mengestu, announced Makena as the winner of the £10,000 prize at an award dinner on Monday (2nd July). The ceremony was held for the second time in Senate House, in partnership with SOAS and the Centre for African Studies.
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.
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."
Makena is a graduate of the MFA Creative Writing programme at New York University, and has been published in Urban Confustions and Wasifiri. She lives in Nairobi, Kenya, and is currently working on a fantasy novel.
Alongside Dinaw on the panel of judges were South African author and winner of the 2008 Caine Prize, Henrietta Rose-Innes; author and director of the Ake Arts and Books Festival, Lola Shoneyin; and Ahmed Rajab, a Zanzibar-born international journalist, political analyst and essayist.
Last year the Caine Prize was won by Sudanese writer Bushra al-Fadil for his short story “The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away” from The Book of Khartoum (Comma Press, 2016) – translated from Arabic by Max Schmookkler with support from Najila Osman Eltom.
The New Internationalist 2018 anthology, Redemption Song and Other Stories, is now published and it includes all of the shortlisted stories along with 12 other short stories written at the Caine Prize 2018 workshop in Rwanda. The anthology is available here.