As a judge for the Caine Prize for African Writing, I had the opportunity to read an amazing set of short stories by a prolific, diverse set of writers. As a first time judge, I was not sure what to expect and the occasion to judge reminded me of the seriousness with which writers undertake their craft. As an academic trained in the diverse methods of literary criticism, I enjoyed being part of a panel of judges who themselves were writers and not necessarily or solely critics of writing.
That is, their insights, both in terms of the aesthetics and politics, proved useful in amplifying the conversation we had about the stories, as well as in increasing the attention I paid to the stages of writing, including the risks that writers took in sharing their stories, cultures, lives, and emotions. However different and unique each story was, each one gave us a glimpse into the writers’ imaginations and reminded of the intricate relationship that exists between writing, politics, and political action.
Love, sex, death, illness, wellness, and family are themes that constantly emerged in the short stories, and how the author approached the delicate navigation between and among these themes influenced how compelling I thought the story was. Stories that stood out the most to me were the ones that didn’t recycle these themes, but rather provided alternative visions that would help us to re-imagine our very understanding of it. What for, for example, does it mean to leave the love and family one has known to chart out a new, not yet imagined family and love? Would that new family and love even be recognizable within the framework we already know? Stories like these pushed the envelopes on both cultural norms and the imagination and it is in these spaces that we create revolution. If the stories submitted to the Caine Prize gesture toward the possibilities for a world re-made, we certainly have good reasons to be optimistic.
Written by Caine Prize 2016 Judge Robert Patterson. To find out more about the 2016 judges click here.