The Zambian writer, Namwali Serpell, has won the 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing, one of the most prestigious literary awards for young writers from the continent. She is the first Zambian to win the prize.
Serpell, who teaches English at the University of California, Berkeley, won for her story, The Sack (pdf), a brooding meditation on friendship, love, history, and the tyranny that can result from memory.
Accepting the £10,000 ($15,500) prize money at the awards ceremony in Oxford, Serpell declared that she will share the award with her fellow nominees—Nigerians Segun Afolabi (who won in 2005) and Elnathan John, and South Africans F.T. Kola and Masande Ntshanga.
The Caine Prize—now in its 16th year and dubbed the “African Booker”—has become a launching pad for some of the continent’s most talented writers. Past winners include such literary luminaries as Binyavanga Wainaina, Leila Aboulela, NoViolet Bulawayo, and Helon Habila. The popular Nigerian novelist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, was a nominee in 2002.
Serpell, who was born in Zambia and migrated to the US in 1989, was first nominated for the award in 2010 for her short story Muzungu, which was featured in The Best American Short Stories 2009 collection.
Chair of the judges South African award-winning writer Zoë Wicomb said of the winning story:
From a very strong shortlist, we have picked 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. Formally innovative, stylistically stunning, haunting and enigmatic in its effects. The Sack is a truly luminous winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing.”
As part of her award, Serpell will be offered a chance to spend a month as a writer-in-residence at Georgetown University’s Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice.