Three Authors Win the Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize in African Literature

In News by Dennis Abrams

Writers from Tanzania and Kenya take top honors in the two-year-old prize program, with special appreciation cited for dialect work.

From left, winners of the Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature are Idrissa Haji Abdalla, Hussein Wamaywa, Ahmed Hussein Ahmed.

By Dennis Abrams | @DennisAbrams2

Recognizing African Languages, Translation
Winners of the Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature have been announced by the chair of the board of trustees, Abdilatif Abdalla.

The prize, founded in 2014 by Lizzy Attree, the Caine Prize director, and Mukoma Wa Ngugi of Cornell University, has the expressed goal of recognizing writing in African languages and encouraging translation from, between and into African languages. Winners announced are:

Fiction

  • Idrissa Haji Abdalla (Tanzania) for Kilio cha Mwanamke ($5,000)
  • Hussein Wamaywa (Tanzania) for Moyo Wangu Unaungua ($3,000)

Poetry

  • Ahmed Hussein Ahmed (Kenya) for Haile Ngoma ya Wana ($5,000)

Additional Shortlisted Writers

  • Ally Hilal (Tanzania) for Mmeza Fupa (fiction)
  • Hussein Wamaywa (Tanzania) for Mkakati wa Kuelekea Ikulu (fiction)
  • Richard Atuti Nyabuya (Kenya) for Umalenga wa Nyanda za Juu (poetry)
‘Women’s Issues Are Discussed’

The judges, recognizing the long Kiswahili literary tradition, write:

“In the winning novel, women’s issues are discussed in great depth. The imagery of woman is depicted clearly in her various roles and capacities. Oppressive traditions and patriarchy are shown to be the greatest obstacles to her progress. She fights and emerges the winner in the end.

“The winning poetry collection has used the Kimvita dialect, which is used in Mombasa. This dialect has been used by renowned poets of various periods in history like the great Muyaka wa Muhaji, Ahmed Nassir Juma Bhalo, Abdilatif Abdalla and now Ahmed Hussein. This is a dialect which has its own idiosyncrasies in terms of the pronunciation of some of its sounds and is rich in vocabulary.”

The annual $15,000 prize is awarded to the best unpublished manuscripts or books published within two years of the award year across categories of fiction, poetry, memoir, and graphic novels.

Winning entries are published in Kiswahili by East African Educational Publishers (EAEP). And the best poetry book published in English translation by the Africa Poetry Book Fund.

The prize is to be awarded in Tanzania at the Hyatt Regency Dar es Salaam on January 16. It’s sponsored by Mabati Rolling Mills Ltd. of Kenya and ALAF Ltd. of Tanzania, and by the office of the vice provost for international affairs at Cornell University, as well as the Africana Studies Center at Cornell.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.