Guests mingle over glasses of cocktails at the foyer of the Intercontinental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos Nigeria on Saturday night. After two hours of tete-a-tete over cocktail, the doors were finally opened for guests to move into the large hall at the Intercontinental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria, on Saturday, for the start of the 2015 Etisalat Prize for Literature Award night.
Anchored by Sope Martins and Jimmy, the event kicked off with a rendition of a pop version of the National Anthem by Kay Peace and Nobel.
Not many people who have thought ‘Tramp 83’ by poet and novelist, Fiston Mwanza Mujila, would win out of the three shortlisted novels, ‘The Story of Ana P As Told by Herself’ and ‘What Will People Say?’ by Rehana Rossouw.
Excerpts from the three shortlisted novels were dramatized whetting the audience’s appetite before the winner was announced. However, the performance of an excerpt from ‘Tram 83’ got the audience cracking with laughter. They were therefore excited when the novel was announced the winner of the 2015 Etisalat Prize for Literature.
35-year-old Mujila is the first Francophone writer to win the prestigious Etisalat Prize, the first ever pan-African prize that celebrates debut fiction books by African authors. ‘Tram 83’ is his first novel. Originally written in French, Tram 83 was translated into English by Roland Glasser and published by Deep Vellum.
Mujila was presented with a £15,000 cheque, an engraved Montblanc Meisterstück and an Iphone 6S. He will also have the opportunity to attend the Etisalat Fellowship, worth £13,000, at the prestigious University of East Anglia, United Kingdom, under the mentorship of Professor Giles Foden.
Born in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo, in 1981, Mujila studied Literature and Human Sciences at Lubumbashi University. He now lives in Graz, Austria and is pursuing a PhD in Romance Languages. He has won many accolades for his writing, including the Gold Medal at the 6th Jeux de la Francophone in Beirut as well as the Best Text for Theater (State Theater, Mainz) in 2010. His writings are a response to the socio-political turbulence of post-independence Congo.
‘Tram 83’ is the first novel by a DR Congo writer to be translated into English in over two decades. The novel centres around Lucien, an idealistic writer sucked into the dystopian world of his friend, Requiem, a gangster who reigns supreme in the outrageous, extravagant and glamorously debauched nightlife of a secessionist City-State. The Tram 83 of the title is a nightclub that forms the heart of the crumbling city, in which Requiem and a cast of colourful characters feast.
In his remark, chair of judges, Ato Quayson, says over 100 entries were received. This number was cut down to 35, later nine and the final shortlisted three. According to him, ‘Tram 83’ can be read in a variety of ways as music is needed to read it. “The novel highlights a totalitarian regime in a society full of poverty. The characters are not despaired. They are owning their suffering making do with the exuberance and what life throws at them. It is a Jazz opera. It is an experimental work like Wole Soyinka’s ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’. There is a form of modulation of content of action.”
Also, Ojuolape Modupe emerged winner of the Flash Fiction category with the short story titled ‘Gone by Kuti’. She went home with a prize of one thousand pounds.
“We received over 1, 300 entries,” explains Toni Kan Nwordi, chair of judges for the Flash Fiction Category, “50 of the entries expressed emotions and issues that affect us as a nation. We read well over 50 stories. We all love the winning story because it relates to us in every way, a highly evocative story.”
In his welcome address, the CEO of Etisalat, Matthew Willsher, says the awards was instituted to celebrate the tremendous wealth of true talents not only in Nigeria but Africa.
“We are delighted again to celebrate the richness and strength of African literature. Etisalat Prize for Literature bears out this year’s theme, ‘Representing the Diversity of African Voices’. Diversity is somehow wonderful in its own right, but its importance is not for its intangible beauty, it is that diversity is a huge source of innovation. Africa’s diversity is increasingly recognised as it brings new approaches to world literature while innovation is very important in the literary world.”
According to him, The Etisalat prize for Literature is the only prize on the continent that celebrates African fiction writing. “In line with our theme for this year, it is about celebrating the diversity of voices on the continent. Diversity aside from beauty is also about a foundation for innovation. Innovation is something we believe in as a company. To compete with better funded companies we had to innovate. Innovation is very important in the literary world.”
In addition, he says, Etisalat is committed to buying a 1, 000 copies of the shortlisted books novel donation to schools, book clubs and libraries across Africa. Etisalat will sponsor a book tour to three African cities.
In her remarks, deputy Governor of Lagos State and Commissioner of Education, Idiat Adebule who was represented by her Permanent Secretary, Olusola Yinka Ayandele, commends Etisalat its effort in promoting African writing and discovering new talents.
“The award has been encouraging reading culture among youths. It has the potential of discovering new talents. It provides young writers the opportunity to meet great writers and literary critics whom they have admired. It will also help publishers with their businesses with the production of 1, 000 copies to be bought from them by Etisalat.”
The judging panel for the 2015 Etisalat Prize for Literature was chaired by Ato Quayson, Professor of English and inaugural Director of the Centre for Diaspora Studies at the University of Toronto. The panel also comprised writer and editor, Molara Wood; and Zukiswa Wanner, author of Men of the South and London Cape Town Joburg.
The distinguished Patrons of the Etisalat Prize are: noted writer Ama Ata Aidoo (Ghana); Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Dele Olojede (Nigeria); Former deputy editor of Granta magazine and former senior editor at Jonathan Cape, Random House, Ellah Allfrey, OBE (UK, Zimbabwe); writer and scholar, Kole Omotoso (Nigeria); Editor, writer, broadcaster and co-founder of Allison & Busby, Margaret Busby, OBE (UK/Ghana); and novelist, poet and playwright, Zakes Mda (South Africa).