Nigerian-British author Irenosen Okojie has won the £10,000 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing with her short story “Grace Jones”, from 2019 collection Nudibranch (Dialogue).
She was announced as the winner by chair of the judging panel, Africa Centre director Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp, on 27th July, in a documentary film about the prize. The award is given annually for a short story by an African writer published in English.
Billed as “a heartwrenching account of loss, fractured identity and bereavement”, Okojie's winning tale tells the story of Sidra, a woman whose life is consumed with guilt. In a devastating tragedy, 13-year-old Sidra loses her entire family to a fire that destroys their flat. Years later, Sidra finds herself working as an impersonator of the famous Jamaican singer, model and actress Grace Jones.
Okojie's debut novel Butterfly Fish (Jacaranda) won a Betty Trask award and was shortlisted for an Edinburgh International First Book Award. Her short story collection Speak Gigantular (Jacaranda) was shortlisted for the Edgehill Short Story Prize, the Jhalak Prize and the Saboteur Awards, and nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award.
Tharp said: “This year’s winner of the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing is a radical story that plays with logic, time and place; it defies convention, as it unfolds a narrative that is multi-layered and multi-dimensional. It is risky, dazzling, imaginative and bold; it is intense and full of stunning prose; it’s also a story that reflects African consciousness in the way it so seamlessly shifts dimensions, and it’s a story that demonstrates extraordinary imagination. Most of all, it is world-class fiction from an African writer."
He added: “In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has prompted deeply powerful questions about race, justice and equality in the world today, this story offers a salient exploration of what it can mean to embody and perform Blackness in the world. This is a story of tremendously delicate power and beauty, and one in which we recognise the tradition of African storytelling and imagination at its finest.”