Since its inception, the Etisalat Prize for Literature was one of the few prizes never to have been won by a Nigerian, until Saturday when Johwor Ile won the award for And After Many Days . The £15,000 Prize, which was created by Etisalat Nigeria in 2013, and it is currently in its fourth year.
According to the Etisalat Prize Profile, besides the £15,000 the winner would have the opportunity of attending a fellowship at the University of East Anglia. Etisalat also purchases 1000 copies of the shortlisted novels and distributes them to schools, book clubs and libraries and the writer receives an engraved Montblanc Meisterstück pen. The prize celebrates new writers of African fiction whose first book which must be more than 30,000 words was published in the previous one year. The shortlisted writers also go on a book tour in three African cities.
Ile, first gained a sort of limelight when Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie mentioned him in an interview she had with Aaron Bady, in July 10, 2013. Adichie had said, “There’s a young man called Johwor Ile who is just finishing a novel, who I think is really spectacular. His novel, when it comes out, will be very good.”
Ile’s And After Many Days was shortlisted alongside Julie Iromuanya’s Mr. And Mrs. Doctor and Jacqui L’Ange’s The Seed Thief. The judges made a unanimous decision on the winning book.
A day before the gala event was held at the Federal Palace Hotel, Lagos, the three shortlisted writers had a book reading which was moderated by Ellah Wakatama OBE. This was enough build up towards the award night. Various scenes from the three books were performed on stage. Spoken word poetry was offered by Titilope Sonuga who gave a lyricized canon of African literature books. The live music by Falana gave a beautiful sound background to the conversations and drinks that spilled from mouth to ear and glass to mouth.
According to an earlier press release, the authors were shortlisted by a three-member judging panel comprising Nigerian novelist and poet, Helon Habila (Chair of Judges); South African writer/activist, Elinor Sisulu; and Ivorian writer and Africa39 laureate, Edwige Renée Dro.
The chair of judges, Helon Habila, when announcing the winner said the name of the winner started with the letter J. Coincidentally, all the shortlisted writers’ names start with the letter J. In previous years, Nigerians had made the shortlist but none had ever won. This set up Ile as the first Nigerian to win the Etisalat Prize for Literature.
The prize is one of the few indigenous prizes for literature on the continent. Most telecommunication companies like MTN and GLO sponsor music and dancing projects. This is not to say the choices of music and dancing are bad, but the focus on literature from corporate institutions in the continent is extremely low.
Previous winners of the Etisalat Prize include NoViolet Bulawayo (Zimbabwe, 2013) for her book We Need New Names, Songeziwe Mahlangu (South Africa, 2014) for his book Penumbra, Fiston Mwanza Mujila (DR Congo, 2015) for his book Tram83.
TIA wishes Ile all the best in his writing career.
— Etisalat Prize (@etisalatreads) May 20, 2017
— Jacqui L'Ange (@jaxangel) May 21, 2017