Namwali Serpell has become the first Zambian writer to win the prestigious Caine prize for African writing, for a short story described as “truly luminous” by judges.
The £10,000 award, which counts African winners of the Nobel prize for literature Wole Soyinka and JM Coetzee amongst its patrons, is for a short story by an African writer published in English. Serpell , an associate professor of English in the University of California, Berkeley, won for The Sack [which can be downloaded as a PDF here]. The story explores the power struggle between two men, one very ill, and the woman who came between them.
“I know what the colour of my skin means to someone of our generation,” she writes. “His eyes have changed. I think he is going to kill me. I think that is what these dreams are telling me. Naila. I cannot remember your hands.”
Serpell said her story was about two men who had known each other since childhood, how they have gone through “a long process of trying to build a political movement together, which failed, and in the process falling in love with the same woman, who died. It’s about trying to come to terms with that”.
“It has multiple inspirations,” she added. “When I was 17 I had a dream about a sack, and I didn’t know if I was on the inside or the outside. I found it very disturbing. The Japanese horror director Takashi Miike’s Audition, which also involves a sack, is another inspiration, and it also draws from an encounter I had with [another student] when I was a graduate student.
“I was studying American and British fiction, and she was studying African contemporary fiction, and her theory was that any time you saw a sack in African literature, it was a hidden reference to the transatlantic slave trade. I was kind of writing my story against that.”
Winning the prize, she said, didn’t seem real until she managed to tell her family in Zambia. “It was a real honour just to be on the shortlist,” she added.
Serpell’s story beat Nigerian writer and former Caine prize winner Segun Afolabi ’s The Folded Leaf, Nigerian Elnathan John ’s Flying, and two South African stories: FT Kola ’s A Party for the Colonel and Masande Ntshanga ’s Space to win the prize.
The South African writer Zoë Wicomb, who chaired the judging panel, called it “formally innovative, stylistically stunning, haunting and enigmatic in its effects”, and an “extraordinary story about the aftermath of revolution with its liberatory promises shattered”.
“It makes demands on the reader and challenges conventions of the genre. It yields fresh meaning with every reading,” she said. Wicomb was joined on the judging panel by the Booker-shortlisted author Neel Mukherjee, former Caine prizewinner Brian Chikwava, Royal African Society chair and journalist Zeinab Badawi, and Georgetown University assistant professor of English Cóilín Parsons.
Serpell, who was named one of the most promising writers for the Africa 39 Anthology, has had a story selected for the Best American Short Stories collection in the past, and was shortlisted for the 2010 Caine prize. She published her first book of literary criticism, Seven Modes of Uncertainty, last year.
She is now working on a novel, she said. “I’m pitching it as the great Zambian novel you didn’t know you wanted to read,” she said. “It’s a sprawling multi-generational saga, which travels between many different countries. I’m about a third of the way through.”
“We want a violence free nation where children are free from defilement and not forced into child marriages; where the girl-child is free to learn and excel in her education and become a productive member of society; where women and men work together as equal partners in development without fear of discrimination and where families respect, love and care for one another.”~Inonge Wina
Country men and women, boys and girls, on Tuesday, November 25, 2014 Zambia joins the rest of the world in conducting the campaign – the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence, whose adapted theme is “From Peace in the Home, to Peace in the Nation: Stop GBV, Empower Women and Men”. The theme reflects the necessity of peace as a pre-requisite for ending gender-based violence. As you may be aware, gender-based violence is a hindrance to our national development.
Our vision as a nation is to become “A Prosperous Middle Income Nation by 2030”. We aspire to live in a strong and dynamic middle-income industrial nation that provides opportunities for improving the well-being of all, embodying values of socio-economic justice, underpinned by the principles of: gender responsive sustainable development; respect for human rights; good traditional and family values; peaceful co-existence, among others.
Gender-based violence, in all of its forms, is a fundamental violation of human rights, including rights to life and security of a person. It reaches into all areas of the political and socio-economic life and is, therefore, an issue that should and must continuously be treated as a matter of urgency.
It stems from the unequal power relations between women and men as well as girls and boys. It is rooted in the patriarchal norms, unjust attitudes and behaviours that reinforce the notion that violence against women and children is acceptable.
I must hasten to add that men are also victims of gender-based violence. In the recent past, the number of reported cases of gender-based violence against men has increased.
In the first six months of 2014, Zambia recorded over 8,000 cases of gender-based violence against women and men, girls and boys. These statistics call for every one of us to get involved and stop gender-based violence so that we have a violence free nation.
Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, it is important that we all go back to the starting point – which is the family. As indicated in this year’s theme for the Campaign, ‘From Peace in the Home to Peace in the Nation, Stop GBV, Empower Women and Men,’ the family is a significant foundational structure, teaching its members the values, traditions and practices that shape our attitudes and behaviour.
It is within the family set-up that we learn the values of love, respect, peace, dignity of life; acceptance of the differences between females and males. It is here that women and men, girls and boys should be adequately empowered with information that positively transforms communities and the nation at large.
It is a well known fact that the majority of children who grow up in environments that are stable and peaceful tend to become peaceful and responsible citizens compared to children who are brought up in violent and non-supportive environments.
Zambia has received international acclaim for its ability to resolve civil and political strife and avoiding war within its borders for the last 50 years. Surely, it is possible for us to stop the war that rages within the home.
We want a violence free nation where children are free from defilement and not forced into child marriages; where the girl-child is free to learn and excel in her education and become a productive member of society; where women and men work together as equal partners in development without fear of discrimination and where families respect, love and care for one another.
Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, the Government of the Republic of Zambia, with support from its co-operating partners and other stakeholders, who include our traditional leaders and faith-based organisations continue to implement strategies aimed at addressing gender-based violence from a multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary approach.
Early this year, our co-operating partners handled over some vehicles to the police victim support unit and this has accelerated response to gender-based violence in the community. We need more partners to come on board so that we enhance the response capacity of the police to reported cases of violence in both rural and urban areas.
Information is power! My Ministry has in place, among other instruments and tools, the National Referral Mechanism on Gender-Based Violence Handbook, which is addressed to survivors to enable them understand what to expect when they report an incident to the police and/or when they visit a health care facility following an incidence of violence.
This will motivate them to seek intervention. The handbook is also handy for service providers such as medical personnel to enable them assist the survivors to understand the medical procedures, especially cases of physical and sexual abuse.
The law enforcement structures are now using the handbook for capacity-building and training measures. Civil society actors are using the handbook as a practical tool to implement and support structures for affected persons.
My ministry has also translated the simplified version of the Anti-Gender-Based Violence Act No 1 of 2011, into 7 languages as well as Braille to facilitate increased education and sensitisation of the general public on the provisions of the Act.
Despite all that Government is doing to curb gender-based violence, there still remains a significant role that the community can play to address the vice at local level, as opposed to being mere passive recipients of messages on gender-based violence.
I, therefore, urge everyone to be fully involved in curbing gender-based violence. I call for zero tolerance to gender-based violence. I call upon communities to action – empower one another with information and report all cases of violence to the police. Perpetrators of violence, regardless of who they are in society, should face the law.
Ladies and Gentlemen, girls and boys, to make this year’s campaign event successful, I call upon all public and private media houses, community media and all stakeholders to join the campaign by informing the nation on the need to change attitudes towards gender issues and end gender-based violence in homes, workplaces and society in general.
Given the solemn mood surrounding the nation following the demise and burial of the fifth Republican President, His Excellency Mr. Michael Chilufya Sata, all activities will be undertaken in a non-celebratory manner.
We will have nationwide prayers during this period. I, therefore, call upon the Church to take a lead in holding prayers in every district so that we seek God’s intervention in ending violence in our nation.
In Lusaka, we will kick-start the campaign with prayers on Tuesday, November 25, at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. To get information on the sensitisation activities taking place in the provinces, I urge you to kindly contact the provincial and/or district administration offices. Be part of the solution and let us build a violence-free nation that future generations will appreciate and be proud of.
May the Lord bless Zambia. I thank you!
Source;Zambia Daily Mail