In search of great prose

Who is writing the great prose of Africa? To judge from the shortlists for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book and Best First Book from Africa it is South Africans — who took 10 of the 11 places — and a sole Nigerian. The shortlists are:

Best Book

  • Damon Galgut (South Africa), The Imposter, Penguin
  • Tim Keegan (South Africa), My Life with the Duvals, Umuzi
  • Sindiwe Magona (South Africa), Beauty’s Gift, Kwela Books
  • Mandla Langa (South Africa), The Lost Colours of the Chameleon, Picador Africa
  • Zoe Wicomb (South Africa), The One That Got Away, Umuzi

Best First Book

  • Jassy Mackenzie (South Africa), Random Violence, Umuzi
  • Uwem Akpan (Nigeria), Say You’re One of Them, Abacus
  • Megan Voysey-Braig (South Africa), Till We Can Keep an Animal, Jacana Media
  • Chris Mamewick (South Africa), Shepherds and Butchers, Umuzi
  • Sue Rabie (South Africa), Boston Snowplough, Human & Rousseau
  • Jane Bennett (South Africa), Porcupine, Kwela Books

The judging panel was made up of chair Elinor Sisulu (South Africa), the South African-based Kole Omotoso (Nigeria) and Billy Karanja Kahora (Kenya).

The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize aims to reward the best Commonwealth fiction written in English by both established and new writers.


The two African regional winners will be announced on March 11 at The Time of the Writer Festival in Durban. They enter the final phase of the competition, competing against six other finalists from Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, South Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific for the overall Best Book and Best First Book award.

The overall winners, chosen by an international panel of six judges coming together in New Zealand, will be announced on May 16 at the Auckland Writers’ and Readers’ Festival.

Regional winners receive £1 000 each and are invited to take part in a week-long series of community events and public readings alongside the final judging in New Zealand. The overall Best Book winner receives £10 000 and the overall Best First Book winner receives £5 000.

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