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Celebrating Black History Month: African Writing and Awards

By Benedetta Giordani, Maria Sadek, Grace Briggs-Jones, Clara Garnier-Barsanti and Jamie Fowler


Ninety eligible submissions were in the running for the Stone Book Award and the Museum of African American History selected the final trio based on their scholarship and accessibility “with an eye toward identifying exceptional works that spark dialogue within and across social and racial groups.” The Caine Prize for African Writing is an award given to a story between 3000 and 10,000 words that is written by an African author/authors. With a prize of £10,000 and the opportunity to be published in an annual Caine Prize anthology, this award sets out to break rising African American writers into the mainstream publishing scene. The quality of winning works from both these awards are undisputable and we are excited to present to you some readings that we hope will feed your future thoughts and conversations.


The Museum of African American History Stone Book Award (MAAH-SBA) recognises and encourages scholarly and literary work about African American history and culture. This year, the $50,000 prize was awarded to Thulani Davis for her book The Emancipation Circuit: Black Activism Forging a Culture of Freedom. Davis is a professor in the Afro-American Studies Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, as well as a poet and writer for theatre, film and journalism. Delving into the history of the 4 million people freed from slavery in the American South, Davis's book highlights the organisations and networks they established to secure and defend their freedom. In her book, Davis traces a “geography of ideas of freedom,” and focuses on the collective organising which became the basis for future Black political activist movements.


For our American readers looking for literary meetings, Thulani Davis participated in a book talk and signing session at the Boston Public Library in Copley Square on Friday 20 October and will also have a book signing session during the Boston Book Festival happening in October.


The award also recognises two finalists, who each receive $10,000. The first of these runners-up is Kerri K. Greenidge and her book The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family. The Grimke sisters are known for being the first nationally-known white female American advocates of abolition, despite their father being a wealthy planter in South Carolina. This generational divide within the family was a microcosm of the divided American society and Greenidge’s book studies such dichotomies in incredible detail. The second finalist is Claude Johnson’s book The Black Fives: The Epic Story of Basketball’s Forgotten Era, which studies the dozens of African American teams that could only play basketball outside of the all-white NBA. This was until 1950, when the league finally became integrated. This forgotten part of history is explored in vivid detail in Johnson’s book and it is a very worthy runner-up of the (MAAH-SBA) prize!


Turning to the 2023 Caine Prize, it was awarded this year for the first time in its history to a duo: Mame Bougouma Diene and Woppa Diallo for their work of short fiction, A Soul of Small Places. Diene is a Franco-Senegalese American humanitarian and short story writer and Diallo is a Senegalese feminist activist and human rights lawyer. The conception of this work originated from Diene listening to Diallo speak at a homeless shelter for teenage girls and, moved by her cause and experiences, penned this story from their discussions. Through the vehicle of the supernatural horror genre, their story tackles sexual violence against women, the threat posed to education by fear of abuse and the lack of urgency from the police to enact necessary change. It interweaves otherworldly transformations, spirits and djinns, to create what Diene refers to as a “very African cosmology,” tying the struggle of its characters to a deep history of pain and fierce desires to protect the victimised. Written in merely six days through a non-conventional act of co-authoring, this is an unflinchingly powerful work of fiction to claim the first Caine Prize for Senegal.


A huge congratulations to the winners of both the MAAH Stone Book Award and the Caine Prize. The MAAH Stone Book Award has recognised more than 345 exceptional new literary works in the field of African American history and culture. These books are available in the MAAH Stone Book Award Library. Representing a specialised collection of contemporary scholarship in all areas of African American history and culture, it is well worth checking out the stacks! With the aim of connecting readers with African writers, the Caine Prize definitely lives up to this mission. As JM Coetzee has said “[o]ver the years, the Caine Prize has done a great deal to foster writing in Africa and bring exciting new African writers to the attention of wider audiences.” Each story written at Caine Prize workshops is published annually alongside the Prize’s shortlist in the annual Caine Prize Anthology – a definite must-read for all those interested in African writers. Both awards play such big roles in highlighting talented writers from Black backgrounds and we are already excited for next year’s awards!



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