Cassava Republic: A $30,000 Nonfiction Prize for Black Women

In News by Porter Anderson

Bibi Bakare-Yusuf’s new nonfiction award for Black women offers a contract and advance to the author of an unpublished manuscript.

Bibi Bakare-Yusuf. Image: Cassava Republic

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

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‘A Long-Overlooked Gap in the Literary World’
As several nonfiction award programs continue to gain traction in the burgeoning book-prize space, Bibi Bakare-Yusuf‘s Cassava Republic has today (October 12) announced a new US$30,000 award program, the Black Women’s Nonfiction Manuscript Prize.

“We take immense pride in launching the Black Women’s Nonfiction Manuscript Prize as we take steps to address a long-overlooked gap in the literary world.

“The prize builds on the long tradition of Black women writers as theorists and intellectuals, and provides a platform for a range of writers from Africa and the Afro-diaspora to follow in the footsteps of luminaries such as Anna Julia Cooper, Amy Jacques Garvey, Claudia Jones, Noni Jabavu, Audre Lorde, May Ayim, Ellen Khuzwayos, Bell Hooks, and Toni Morrison who have come before.”

Bakare-Yusuf says the award is part of her press’ concept of becoming an international Black publishing house, “publishing books by Afro-descendent writers from across the world.”

Originally established in Abuja in 2006, Cassava Republic has carried forward a mission “to change the way we all think about African writing.”

And Bakare-Yusuf may have perceived not only a need for Black women’s nonfiction to find a footing in world publishing markets but also the growth being made these days in both the drawing power and significance of nonfiction.

‘Critical Ideas Across Time and Space’

Among the competitions capturing this reality are the United Kingdom’s Baillie-Gifford Prize for Nonfiction; Canada’s Cundill History Prize; the British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding; the German Nonfiction Prize; the Wolfson History Prize; the Business Book of the Year Award; the Royal Society Science Book Prize; and the Parliamentary Book Awards.

“The prize builds on the long tradition of Black women writers as theorists and intellectuals, and provides a platform for a range of writers from Africa and the Afro-diaspora.”Bibi Bakare-Yusuf, Cassava Republic

And while myriad fiction contests swarm the book business with those golden stickers’ demands for attention, many of the nonfiction programs carry with them an air of inevitable patience, a grounding in the facts served by their authors and craved by many readers in an era of disinformation and continual hyperbole.

The new Cassava Republic prize regime is open to emerging and established Black women (cis, trans and genderqueer) writers wherever they may live and work, and is a program designed to assess unpublished nonfiction manuscripts—a departure from the other nonfiction programs.

With a start date of October 26, the program’s stated mission “mission is to reward and publish emerging and established Black women writers and thinkers from across Africa and the Afro-diaspora focusing on critical ideas across time and space.” A jury is to be named soon.

The winner of the manuscript prize is to receive a publishing contract with Cassava Republic Press and a US$20,000 advance. Acknowledging the strengths of the top shortlisted writers, two runners-up will each receive a $5,000 advance and a publishing deal.

What has become clearer in recent years of work among the nonfiction prizes mentioned above—along with the States’ issue-driven Aspen Words Literary Prize in fiction—is that the real prize belongs to writers whose creativity can propel even the most difficult critical thinking to a reader without the overhang of the Academy making that work pedantic.

And Bakare-Yusuf’s conception of her new prize seems to align itself with this understanding of how serviceable it can be to, as her announcement text today puts it, “reimagine which forms of knowledge are considered ‘authoritative’ by championing writing that collapses the boundary between ‘creativity’ and ‘scholarship,’ that is as rigorous as it is beautiful, as critical as it is playful. Through the prize, Cassava Republic seeks to amplify and unearth the critical ideas that might otherwise remain unpublished or confined to academic circles or niche audiences.”

Writers interested in knowing more about the Black Women’s Nonfiction Manuscript Prize will find details here.

The new award is being funded by Alitheia Capital and the Open Society Foundation Africa.

And Cassava Republic, in its notes to reporters, says that its latest figures show the company—which since 2016 has had offices both in Abuja and London—has so far sold more than 6 million copies of books in as many as 60 countries and 30 languages.

More from Publishing Perspectives on women in publishing is here, more on Africa and publishing is here, and more on international book and publishing awards is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.