Caine Prize Shortlist 2014 Announced

April 23, 2014

The shortlist for the 2014 Caine Prize for African Writing was announced yesterday (Tuesday 22 April).

The Chair of judges, award-winning author Jackie Kay MBE described the shortlist as, “Compelling, lyrical, thought-provoking and engaging. From a daughter’s unusual way of grieving for her father, to a memorable swim with a grandmother, a young boy’s fascination with a gorilla’s conversation, a dramatic faux family meeting, to a woman who is forced to sell her eggs, the subjects are as diverse as they are entertaining.”

The 2014 shortlist comprises:

  • Diane Awerbuck (South Africa) “Phosphorescence” in Cabin Fever (Umuzi, Cape Town. 2011)
  • Efemia Chela (Ghana/Zambia) “Chicken” in Feast, Famine and Potluck (Short Story Day Africa, South Africa. 2013)
  • Tendai Huchu (Zimbabwe) “The Intervention” in Open Road Review, issue 7, New Delhi. 2013
  • Billy Kahora (Kenya) “The Gorilla’s Apprentice” in Granta (London. 2010)
  • Okwiri Oduor (Kenya) “My Father’s Head” in Feast, Famine and Potluck (Short Story Day Africa, South Africa. 2013)

Congratulations to all the shortlisted writers.

Gabriel García Márquez dies aged 87

April 18, 2014


Gabriel García Márquez died at home in Mexico City on Thursday, age 87.

He was a Colombian novelist, short-story writer, screenwriter and journalist, also known as Gabo throughout Latin America. He was awarded the 1972 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Widely considered the most popular Spanish-language writer since Miguel de Cervantes in the 17th century, García Márquez’s literary celebrity spawned comparisons to Mark Twain and Charles Dickens.

One of his well-known books, One Hundred Years of Solitude, published in 1967, sold more than 50 million copies in more than 25 languages.

NoViolet Bulawayo Wins Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction

April 14, 2014


On Friday, NoViolet Bulawayo was named the winner of the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction at the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes for her book, We Need New Names.

Her debut We Need New Names was released in 2013, and was included in the 2013 Man Booker Prize shortlist. This made her the first black African woman and the first Zimbabwean to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The book also won the Etisalat Prize for Literature and the Hemingway Foundation/Pen Award among other accolades.

Congratulations NoViolet Bulawayo.


Interview with Nigerian Writer, Uche Peter Umez

March 30, 2014

Credit: sophie

Biography: Uche Peter Umez has won awards in poetry, short story and children novel writing. He is the author of ‘Dark through the Delta’ (poems), ‘Tears in her Eyes’ (short stories) and ‘Aridity of Feelings’ (poems).

Geosi Reads: How did you come to write poems?

Uche Peter Umez: Although I wrote my first poem titled “GRA” while I was in SS2, I didn’t take poetry seriously until in 1994 when, as an undergraduate smarting from the frustration that came with incessant strikes in Nigerian universities, I chanced upon the omnibus version of Shakespeare’s works in an uncle’s library. I have taken to poetry since then.

Geosi Reads: Do you remember the first lines of poem you read growing up?

Uche Peter Umez: I really can’t remember, but I suspect it must have been any of those West African or English poetry collections, where you have “who sat and watched my infant head/while sleeping on a cradle bed?”

Geosi Reads: Are you a great fan of form? What is the relationship of form and content with regards to your own poems?

Uche Peter Umez: I’m hardly a great fan of anything, since I tend to get easily bored. But I doubt you can have content without any semblance of form. Every work of art has a given form and content, even when it appears not to be immediately or palpably discernible; visual or aural, form and content undergird much of what we regard as art.

Geosi Reads: What do you mainly read? Poetry/ Short Stories/ Novels?

Uche Peter Umez: I try to read anything, and everything, that’s fun and educating.

Geosi Reads: How do you arrive at a finished poem? Do you show it to friends for approval?

Uche Peter Umez: I suppose by a finished poem, you mean, one whose relative quality you feel satisfied with? Whenever I show my poems to close friends, I am usually much more interested in the poems being criticized than praised. Then again, I don’t mind having a good poem of mine commended by established poets, seeing as writing is essentially back-breaking.

Geosi Reads: Does motif play integral part of your writing?

Uche Peter Umez: I strive to make use of motif in my poetry, as much as I can, but I try to not get particularly fussy over it.

Geosi Reads: Your first published work of poetry, Dark through the Delta was highly received in Nigeria. Was that the defining moment for you as a writer?

Uche Peter Umez: I was fortunate to have accomplished poets like Prof MJC Echeruo, Prof Isidore Diala, and Prof Adebayo Lamikanra commend my debut poetry collection. So I guess it is a sort of the “defining” moment when I thought to myself I should probably take this whole writing grind a bit more seriously. Having that collection published in 2004 was very important to me as an aspiring writer at the time, particularly because I was at a nadir moment when it came out and, well, turned my life around. Prior to its publication, Dark through the Delta had received – in manuscript form – a commendable mention by Dr. Nduka Otiono in the ANA Review of 2003. By the way, I am considering re-publishing it for some universities that have shown interest in using it as a text.

Geosi Reads: How useful has your background as a Government and Public Administrator been to your writing career?

Uche Peter Umez: In Nigeria, a great number of students read certain undergraduate courses that fit within the margins of their parents’ expectations, but only for them to realize much later, sometimes between their third or final year, or even when they might have graduated, that those courses are not really their desired courses. That happened to me, too. So now I have a first degree in GPD, as we call it, which has had no impact whatsoever on my writing career.

Geosi Reads: At what stage of your career did you decide to write for children?

Uche Peter Umez: I only ventured into writing for children when a friend of mine Wingate Onyedi urged me to try my hands at it. This was in 2005. I didn’t take his promptings seriously anyway, until I travelled to Oyo State to visit my wife who was doing her youth service there. I churned out a manuscript a year later, which would later earn me an ANA Prize and a shortlist on the Nigeria Prize for Literature. I have had 3 children’s books published after that.

Geosi Reads: You are alumnus of the Caine Prize for African Writing Workshop held in Accra in 2009. Can you tell us about your experience in Accra?

Uche Peter Umez: Writing is a solitary business, so the cliché goes. So the Caine Prize workshop is an experience every aspiring African writer should benefit from. It was fun, but more than that, I find it altogether enriching as a writer. I was in the company of great writers like Jamal Mahjoub, Aminatta Forna, Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, Henrietta Rose-Innes, etc. and enjoying the opportunity of learning a few things from them, especially about how bittersweet it is being a writer. We were all lodged in a waterfront hotel at Kokobrite, on the outskirts of Accra. It was a fantastic mentoring programme which I wouldn’t hesitate to take part in, that is, if the chance ever came my way again!

Geosi Reads: My very last bland question – Is poetry hard work?

Uche Peter Umez: Writing generally is hard work. Only the mental strain is enough to discourage you from undertaking it. And considering that many readers, especially Nigerians, would rather read prose than poetry makes it harder for many of us.


Interview with South African Writer, Abigail George

March 17, 2014
Abigail George

Abigail George

Biography: Abigail George is a South African writer from Port Elizabeth. She studied film and television production for a short while in Johannesburg, followed by brief stints as a trainee at a production house. Abigail has been published widely    in print and online – Litnet, Sun Belly Press,, Upbeat, Tribune and so on. She is a recipient of two grants from the National Arts Council in Johannesburg; in 2005 for a poetry anthology entitled ”Africa, where art thou?” and in 2008 for her collection of stories entitled ”The Origins of Smoke and Mirrors”.

Geosi Reads: The first time I googled your name, I was shocked of the search results. How much value do you place on the internet?

Abigail George: I think the internet is where a writer and a poet can reveal the most vulnerable part of themselves on a world stage without revealing at the same time everything of themselves (privacy is still important to me, it is still an issue for me and that is why I prefer being interviewed via email than face-to-face by a journalist with a book scratching, scribbling notes down). I think the internet is where poets can become better people in their personal space, work through the trauma that is weaved into their stories and poetry, acknowledge their human strength, their consciousness, believe most of all in courage and the sacred cycle of pilgrimage. The internet schools you, it gives you a crash course in everything. There’s a naivety to it as well. You just have to trust your gut instinct, that symmetry, and feel wired up. Be realistic. I’ve had books published too but I know I’m reaching a greater audience when published on the internet. I can’t see them but I know I am connecting with them on some level. It’s a bit like being in high school and memorizing the Periodic Table.

The value of the internet is always in flux to me but don’t get me wrong it is also a dark place for me. You have to as a writer and poet wear both hats at the same time.

It fluctuates on a daily basis. Some days it is good for the self-worth, the self-esteem and to know that perhaps, just perhaps you are nurturing an invisible other’s gift, their talent, that you’re inspiring them. I can address injustice effortlessly. I have often felt displaced, the Outsider and as if I don’t quite belong in this world. I find the internet profound in the relationships it can build, forge, and motivate. It gives me hope networking on social media with invisible others like myself. I have realized that the human soul is magnificent, it has a purpose even with the sometimes anonymous monsters in the closet, under the bed, the voices in our head but coming back to the value that I place on the internet. The future seems ever brighter with all the gadgets and technological advancements being made around us. I have often felt despair, is this it, I have insecurities and doubts like any other writer and poet about being a storyteller. Will I ever be able to write anything again that is worthy of being of value and published. So many questions, too few answers but the belief must always be there. I can do this. I hope that other storytellers and poets find this helpful. Courage comes from so many places not just from the spirit, the human soul or within. I wanted to talk about this at length because there are advantages and disadvantaged on being published on the internet. Technology has become so advanced in the past five years but we have had to give up our privacy and not on our terms. Social media is a vortex.

Geosi Reads: Can I quiz you on the difference between a writer and a poet?

Abigail George: The best poets are the ones who are unfortunately or fortunately the most difficult to read. They’re usually the ones whose insight and intelligence will make you think, smile, laugh or cry. Their journey on the page often feels incomplete because you have to do the rest of the work. Figuring out their inhibitory sensory perception and intuition. Poetry can sometimes be more work than books, than stories. The good ones work will make you flinch. Unfortunately we have to work at understanding their sensitivity, the relevance of their work and opinion and their work at times are unfathomable like a sonnet, Milton or Wilfred Owen. I have enjoyed reading African poets but for me Amatoritsero Ede’s poetry is beautiful, has striking imagery, is touching and is moving and emotional. The best character traits for poetry. For the beginner it is easier to start with reading work by poets you admire, and who aren’t ashamed of telling the truth and talking about the world around them as they see it.

The best writers want us to share their vision of the planet, and it’s either a palace or a ruined castle (beauty in both it seems to me). The truly great ones (the storytellers) are not in the habit of wanting to be superior to everyone else in the room. It’s just that they are in that league. It’s just that they are a force of nature. Humility plays a key role in their lives, a significant one that they acknowledge every day. This is important because arrogance isn’t worth anything in the end. It’s sad and stupid to think that way because you lose yourself in that place and what becomes of you in the end. So I tell everyone that I write to to read Austria’s Rilke’s ‘Letters to a Young Poet’. It changed my life. So many books did on this road but especially that book. And read difficult books. They may not be easy but they will help your progress in the writing world and most importantly you will learn from them. You will develop a divide between the ego and the intellect. Smart people read and they read a lot, especially a lot of everything. Everybody really should but they don’t.

Geosi Reads: This may sound silly, but how does it feel to carry the placard of a writer on your forehead?

Abigail George: It’s difficult. Very, very difficult for me to understand and to wrap my head around it. When people ask me what do I do for a living I’m still like do I tell them, do I tell them that I’m a writer. I think that people tend to imagine you as this guru-type person and that you were born with all the harmonic answers that they’re looking for, knowledge that reads like literature, poetic justice, higher learning, cool memoir or a romance. I wanted to be involved in media when I was younger, in my twenties. I went to film school and then I became religious fervently and thought I had to fill my time with that. Prayer is important to me though, don’t get me wrong. Meditation is important to me. It’s where I find peace. Never thinking I would grow up writing poetry, writing books, writing short stories, hopefully novellas and fiction. I’ve written creative non-fiction. I really wanted to be a documentary filmmaker. You have dreams. You have goals. You grow up and they change. My journey, my world is continually changing (all the time even when I’m not aware of it).

So when I saw the word ‘placard’ it brings a sense of home to me. I have been writing since I was a young child. I’ve been in the theatre world since I was a young child (that was my first love) but some things have shifted around me without me even realizing it and now I am a writer and this is my career. It has taught me self-reliance and not to be so caught in the past like I once was but that was not so long ago. I do not miss television production anymore. I’d rather be surrounded by my books and that quiet voice that comes to me when I am writing.

Every creative writing project that I embark on I view as an assignment on anticipatory nostalgia. I want to believe that I am making the world a better place with my writing, communicating to the world at large that is so filled with materialism that you can make a difference, be the difference in the world. There’s goodness but there’s evil too and as a writer, as a poet, as a storyteller you have to acknowledge both even if you don’t want too.

Geosi Reads: You studied film and television production for short while. I am wondering the impact it has on your poetry or short stories?

Abigail George: I love films. Always have. Going to film school when I look back in retrospect it was such a privilege for me, the people I met. I can’t ever, ever take that period of my life away, spirit it away but I do write about it sometimes. It does come out when I least expect it and it makes me happy when it does because it is lovely to remember those days carrying a tripod or a camera or doing research, or being part of a production crew. I am not in contact with any of them anymore or Johannesburg in any way but those were happy memories. I carried a lot of deep pain and anger within me when I was in my late adolescence and early twenties and of course depression (and a lot of it dealt with my family and my childhood, resentment, bitterness, not being the chosen one, the favorite daughter in the house, family issues). Depression was hereditary. I won’t say it gets easier but you learn how to deal with these things. With negativity and the silver lining.

And of course what I studied, it has impacted my poetry, my short stories. It has had a major influence on inspiring me. In Johannesburg everything was a lesson and sometimes I miss that. Some mornings it felt just after I woke up like I was waking up in a dream. I miss that sensation sometimes. And of course I will never forget the friendships I made.

Geosi Reads: The first time I visited Port Elizabeth, I quickly fell in love with nature. Do you bother to factor nature into your works?

Abigail George: As much as I possibly can. You can see it, hear it, and feel it in my poetry. The change of the seasons, the green grass, autumn leaves, a Petrified Forest. When I lived for a year in Swaziland with my aunt everything around me was green and I loved it. I loved the house we lived in. How everything was so clean and the air was fresh and new. I loved the people, the energy and I kept my first diary there for a year while I attended school. The essence of the people inspired me when I felt discouraged or pressure. I always had this pressure within me to succeed, this competitive nature but now that I’m older, wiser, more mature I’ve surrendered it. I’ve learned to let go of it and that feeling isn’t as strong. It used to have its own brand of optimism and I swear I don’t know where that came from.

Nature is important to me. I love walking. I have two dogs. Spending time outside with them is important to me. When I think about nature I think about the animal world too. And I have a garden (a meditation garden filled with roses and lavender and herbs and tomatoes, basil is a favorite of mine) and a vegetable patch.

Geosi Reads: Do you think poetry should be performed?

Abigail George: Yes, poetry should be performed. I love that medium. I think it’s important for protest poetry to be performed on a stage, especially African poets who are so different, so unique. The world should see them I think.

Geosi Reads: Yet another silly question – Do you have any secret flaw as a writer?

Abigail George: I try and edit my work as much as I possibly can and then sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I just send the first draft of it out (even though I know I shouldn’t). I don’t think writers should censor their work. Get everything out of your head, out of your system like a mad dance in the rain. Just go ahead and get it over and done with.

Geosi Reads: It’s a long time I read a book with a questioning title. I am thinking of your book, ‘Africa where art thou?’

Abigail George: Titles come to me all the time. I am always writing them down, scribbling them down and use all of them. Some for stories, some for poems, some for books. Some people who I regarded as mentors did not like the title but I went with it anyway and I am still glad that I did. I followed my instinct and I hoped that other people also enjoyed the title and the book as much as I did writing it. It took me a few years before it was done though. Writing poetry is one of the most difficult art forms. But you have to believe more in what your heart is telling you and not your head.

Geosi Reads: Do you mind what people say about your writing?

Abigail George: No, not really. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But sometimes yes, yes, yes because in a strange way I feel as I am being personally attacked especially after I’ve received a rejection letter. Honestly I feel hurt. When someone likes my work it makes me very happy, ecstatic, enthusiastic even, many, many things but I become intensely negative and emotional when I receive a rejection letter. I know I shouldn’t take it to heart but I do. I want to make people happy but I want to do this all the time and you just can’t. I have to realize my own limitations and understand when enough is enough and try not to think, conceptualize and analyze that I’ve just illuminated my personal space for the world to see and speak about.

Geosi Reads: One last jejune question – I have never thought George a surname until I saw your name?

Abigail George: Here I could answer a question with a question but I won’t. George is also a boy’s name but it is also a surname in South Africa. It is my real name in case you were wondering. My paternal grandfather originally came from St. Helena Island. He was a soldier in Kenya during the war.


Caine Prize – 2014 Judging Panel Announced

February 6, 2014

The judges of this year’s Caine Prize for African Writing were announced today.

The panel will be chaired by award-winning author Jackie Kay MBE, distinguished novelist and playwright Gillian Slovo, Zimbabwean journalist Percy Zvomuya, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Georgetown Dr Nicole Rizzuto and the winner of the Caine Prize in 2001 Helon Habila.

The judges will choose a shortlist from the record 140 entries towards the end of April. The winner will be announce on 14 July 2014. Last year’s prize went to Tope Folarin for “Miracle”.

Visit here for more.

Interview with Nigerian Writer, Akinlabi Peter

January 22, 2014
Peter Akinlabi

Peter Akinlabi

Brief Biography: Peter Akinlabi was born in Ogbomoso, Western Nigeria. He holds a BA and MA in English and Literary Studies respectively from the universities of Ibadan and Ilorin, Nigeria. His poems have appeared online in Maple Tree Literary Supplement, Sentinel Quarterly, Lit.Mag. of and Sentinel Nigeria. HIs poem, To a Poet Activist, was runner up in the 2001 Okigbo Poetry Prize, University of Ibadan and in 2009, his poem, Moving, won the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Poetry Competition. Peter Akinlabi lives and works in the city of Ilorin, Nigeria.

Geosi Reads: Let me start with this odd question. Do you have any unfinished poems you look at sporadically?

Akinlabi Peter: Yea: a whole lot of them. In a sense, all poems I have ever written, until they finally appear in a book, are still work-in-progress.

Geosi Reads: Does your poems get completed at a snail’s pace or at full tilt?

Akinlabi Peter:   O, I am a snailman in the sense that I really never finish writing a poem; I keep chipping off or adding new elements – syntactic or line realignments , a lot of sculptural reviewing, until the poem is out, after which I become sad again in dissatisfaction

Geosi Reads: Would you say poetry brought you to the limelight as a writer?

Akinlabi Peter: Surely. That’s how you knew me for instance. That’s only thing I do to get some attention otherwise, I was just your regular John Doe.

Geosi Reads: How long are your poems? Have you ever attempted a very long poem?

Akinlabi Peter: I prefer relatively short poems. Long poems can be unwieldy as far as imagery compactness goes, you can easily lose sight of your trajectory in them. But I have written a number of long poems too.

Geosi Reads: Do you remember what your first poem was about?

Akinlabi Peter: Yes. About sunrise over a small river called Nana, which I had to ford daily to go to school.

Geosi Reads: In a country full of talented writers, how do you cope with the challenges of reaching out to readers in Nigeria?

Akinlabi Peter: No challenges of reaching out to readers at all now with this business of the internet and social networking. You just need to post a poem on your Facebook page.

Geosi Reads: What impact did being on the shortlist of the Brunel University African Poetry Prize bring to you?

Akinlabi Peter: More renown, I guess.

Geosi Reads: Do you travel to actual places to write your poems? I am actually thinking of Ouidah, one of your shortlisted poems.

Akinlabi Peter: Yea. I have been working on a series of poems that reflect on the mythologics of place. ‘Quidah’ is one of them. You also have ‘Ijaye’, ‘Oyo’, ‘Takoradi’ and so on. You really need to visit these places to be able to track down the order between map and its mythology.

Geosi Reads: ‘… that men caress like sadness’. That’s a beautiful way to end ‘A Walk on the Plateau’. What led you to write this poem?

Akinlabi Peter: Ah, the next time you see that poem anywhere, it would be titled ‘Barkin Ladi’. It is actually the first of the series that I mentioned just now. I wrote that poem during my service year in a small town called Barkin Ladi, a few kilometers from Jos, where I lived. It was a small, a little rustic, but a home to the Plateau State Airport. I lived in the premises of St. John Vianney junior seminary. But there’s something magical about the name of this town, about the scenery- the rocks, the slender trees and the artificial lakes abandoned by miners years before -  and the social behavior, the unremarked actions that blurred a separation of individualities of men and matter… there was something here that enlivened a  mythopoeic imagination. I am not sure if such magic could survive for long amidst the daily carnage in and around B-Ladin at present.

Geosi Reads: What kind of audience do you think of when you write?

Akinlabi Peter: Any reader really that enjoys my kind of poetry. You know there are different types, modes if you like, of poetry. I myself don’t enjoy certain kinds.

Geosi Reads: Does it sometimes occur to you to edit a poem you’ve published?

Akinlabi Peter: Yes, until they appear as officially published, all my poems are at the risk of whimsical redaction.

Geosi Reads: Which of your poems would you call a favourite and why?

Akinlabi Peter: Maybe the one you mentioned, that’s now called ‘Barkin Ladi’, simply because it’s my oldest surviving work and the longest suffering patient under my scalpel.



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