Love story wins 'African Booker'
Michelle PauliTuesday July 10, 2007Guardian Unlimited
'Witty and touching' ... Monica Arac de Nyeko
Monica Arac de Nyeko has won the £10,000 Caine prize for African writing with her touching love story, Jambula Tree.
Set in Uganda, where Arac de Nyeko was born and brought up, it tells of a taboo love between two teenagers, and the consequences of its discovery. While the emotions are described with a delicate touch, the tale is given ballast through its rich portrayal of the protagonists' community, the Nakawa Housing Estates - a crowded acre of "planned slums, with people with broken dreams and unplanned families for neighbours".
Speaking after her win, Arac de Nyeko said she was "stunned and very excited but also very calm. I thought if I won I would be doing cartwheels around the hall but there is actually something quite humbling about it".
The story was described by Jamal Mahjoub, chair of the judges, as "a witty and touching portrait of a community which is affected forever by a love which blossoms between two adolescents."
As well as the cash prize, the award also includes a month's residence at Georgetown university, Washington DC, with all travel and living expenses covered.
"It will be my first ever residency as a writer so that alone is exciting - the child in you is thrilled about it!" said Arac de Nyeko. "It is the value of having a space to think and create and give birth to interesting sentences".
Monica Arac de Nyeko studied at Makerere and Groningen universities for a degree in Education and an MA in Humanitarian Assistance. She is a member of the Uganda Women Writers Association and has also been a fellow on the British Council's Crossing Borders programme.
Known as the African Booker, the annual Caine prize is awarded to a short story published in English by an African writer whose work has reflected African sensibilities. It is the second time that Arac de Nyeko has been in the running for the award, after she was shortlisted in 2004 for her short story Strange Fruit. That year Brian Chikwava from Zimbabwe won with Seventh Street Alchemy.
This year it was Arac de Nyeko's turn, and she triumphed over a shortlist which featured three writers from Nigeria - Uwem Akpan, EC Osondu, Ada Udechukwu - and Henrietta Rose-Innes from South Africa.
The judges were the Kenyan academic, critic and writer Dr Wangui wa Goro, the award winning novelist Delia Jarrett-Macauley, the South African poet and novelist Jonty Driver and former Zed Books managing editor, Robert Molteno.
Previous winners of the prize include Mary Watson from South Africa, Kenyan writer and journalist Binyavanga Wainaina, and Commonwealth Writers prize-winner Helon Habila. The four African winners of the Nobel prize for literature - Wole Soyinka, Nadine Gordimer, Naguib Mahfouz and JM Coetzee - are patrons of the prize.
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