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January 19, 2019

Kenyan writer Makena Onjerika wins Sh1.3m Caine Prize for African Writing

Makena Onjerika./COURTESY
Makena Onjerika./COURTESY

Kenyan writer Makena Onjerika has won the 2018 Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story 'Fanta Blackcurrant', beating four other finalists.

Described as Africa’s leading literary award, the short story was published by Wasafiri in (2017).

The Chair of the Caine Prize judging panel Dinaw Mengestu, announced Onjerika as the winner of the £10,000 {Sh1.3m} prize at an award dinner on Monday evening. 

Mengestu, praised its narrative as 'haunting in its humour, sorrow and intimacy' Cane Prize said via twitter on Tuesday.

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 she 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.

Meri's success stealing from Nairobi’s businesswomen 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."

Onjerika is a graduate of the MFA Creative Writing programme at New York University. She lives in Nairobi, Kenya, and is currently working on a fantasy novel.

In the shortlist announced in May, Onjerika beat four other finalists: Nonyelum Ekwempu (Nigeria), Stacy Hardy (South Africa), Olufunke Ogundimu (Nigeria) and Wole Talabi (Nigeria).

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