The Caine Prize Controversies

[caption id="attachment_1325" align="alignleft" width="197" caption="Caine Prize Collection 2012 courtesy of New Internationalist Books"]

This Saturday, the Caine Prize for African Writing will award the 2012 prize to one of its five shortlisted short stories.

The prize is one of the most prestigious on the African continent and has been subjected to intense scrutiny since it started. Despite accusations of favouring some regions over others, it remains a powerful tastemaker in the African literary landscape.

But last year’s shortlist ignited a heated controversy around its portrayals of poverty on the continent. Writer and critic Ikhide Ikheloa criticised the prize for what he saw as its focus on “Poverty Porn.”

Sensitive to the accusations, the prize’s Chair of Judges Bernadine Evaristo, went out of her way to mention that this year’s shortlist showcased ‘the range of African fiction beyond the more stereotypical narratives.’

It even shook up its executive board by appointing the Booker Prize-winning Nigerian writer Ben Okri as its vice-president and Ellah Allfrey, deputy editor of Granta magazine, as its deputy chairperson.

And early reviews of the shortlist seem to suggest that their efforts have paid off. Thing is, while they may have succeeded in avoiding stereotypes, they may have blundered into questions of quality. But that is another story...


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