Kenyan writer Idza Luhumyo has won this year’s AKO Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story, ‘Five Years Next Sunday’.
She’s the fifth Kenyan to win the award after Binyavanga Wainaina (2002), Yvonne Owuor (2003), Okwiri Oduor (2014) and Makena Onjerika (2018).
Beating 267 entries in a record year of submissions, Luhumyo will take home a cash prize of £10,000 (about Sh1.4 million). She will also be published in the 2022 AKO Caine Prize anthology later this year by Cassava Republic Press.
This is an African book publishing company established in 2006 with a focus on affordability, the need to find and develop local talent, and to publish local writers too often celebrated only in Europe and America.
Encounter changes her fortunes
‘Five Years Next Sunday’ is a story about a young woman with the unique power to call the rain in her hair. Feared by her family and community, a chance encounter with a foreigner changes her fortunes, but there are duplicitous designs upon her most prized and vulnerable possession.
Speaking during the award ceremony that took place in London at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Okey Ndibe, chair of the 2022 AKO Caine Prize Judging Panel, described Luhumyo’s story as “an incandescent story — its exquisite language wedded to the deeply moving drama of a protagonist whose mystical office invites animus at every turn”.
“What we liked about the story was the mystical office of the protagonist, who is both ostracised and yet holds the fate of her community in her hair. She is stripped of agency by her immediate family, as well as the Europeans who give the impression of placing her on a pedestal, yet within that seeming absence of agency, and oppressive world, is her stubborn reclamation of herself. The dramatic tension in the story is so powerful and palpable that it’s like something you could cut with a knife,” said Mr Ndibe.
Other judges were French-Guinean author and academic Elisa Diallo, South African literary curator and co-founder of The Cheeky Natives Letlhogonolo Mokgoroane, UK-based Nigerian visual artist Ade ‘Àsìkò’ Okelarin and Kenyan co-founder of the Book Bunk, Angela Wachuka.
The judges praised the other shortlisted stories for being “well written and emotionally resonant.” The judges also expressed confidence in the continued significance of the AKO Caine Prize in the African literary scene.
“The historic import of the Prize on writers’ trajectories has ranged from the formation of literary entities, to unmatched global visibility, and opportunities, including publishing deals and writing fellowships,” said Ms Wachuka.
This is an annual award for a short story by an African writer published in English.
Luhumyo is a well-known author whose work has been published by Popula, Jalada Africa, The Writivism Anthology, Baphash Literary & Arts Quarterly, MaThoko’s Books, Gordon Square Review, Amsterdam’s ZAM Magazine, Short Story Day Africa, the New Internationalist, The Dark, and African Arguments.
Her work has been shortlisted for the Short Story Day Africa Prize, the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship, and the Gerald Kraak Award. She is the inaugural winner of the Margaret Busby New Daughters of Africa Award (2020) and winner of the Short Story Day Africa Prize (2021).