Seed of success: South African writer shortlisted for literary award

The pan-African literary prize, the Etisalat Prize for Literature, has shortlisted three authors for the 2016 award. A South African and two Nigerian writers have made the cut. The winner will be announced in March.

Etisalat Prize
The Etisalat Prize for Literature shortlists three authors for the 2016 award, including South African writer Jacqui L’Ange for The Seed Thief. (Image: Etisalat Prize, via Twitter)

Priya Pitamber

In the South African book The Seed Thief, Maddy Bellani is a passionate and petite botanist who also loves to run. “She has good knees,” said Cape Town author Jacqui L’Ange, speaking to SABC’s Morning Live, as a way of differentiating the character from herself.

L’Ange and two Nigerian writers have been shortlisted for the 2016 edition of the pan-African literary prize, the Etisalat Prize for Literature.

They are:

  • L’Ange from South Africa for The Seed Thief (Umuzi Publishers, South Africa),
  • Jowhor Ile from Nigeria for And After Many Days (Kachifo Limited, Nigeria), and;
  • Julie Iromuanya from Nigeria for Mr & Mrs Doctor (Coffee House Press, USA).

L’Ange congratulated Ile and Iromuanya on her website. “I am beyond honoured to be on this list with you,” she wrote.

“In addition to originality of voice and literary excellence, our purpose was to also select a work that portrays an ‘African sensibility,’” said chair of the judges Helon Habila, the Nigerian poet and novelist.

Etisalat Prize for Literature

The literary award is given by the telecommunications company, Etisalat Nigeria.

“At Etisalat, we have found the nexus between innovation and creativity,” said CEO Matthew Willsher.

“This is why we give people the opportunity to express their individuality and ingenuity so they can be the best in whatever they choose to do.”

The winner will be announced in March during a grand finale in Lagos.

The prize includes:

  • A monetary component of £15,000 (about R251,000),
  • An engraved Montblanc Meisterstück pen,
  • Mentorship from Professor Giles Foden, author of The Last King of Scotland, and;
  • A sponsored multi-city book tour.

The telecommunications company would also buy a thousand copies of the book and distribute them to schools, libraries and book clubs across the continent to promote “a reading culture and the publishing industry at large”, Etisalat said.


The synopsis

L’Ange described her character Maddy in The Seed Thief as being similar to fynbos, the small belt of endemic shrubland in the Western Cape.

“She is kind of hardy but delicate, intricate and there’s a lot more than what you see on the surface,” the author said. “I think the fynbos kingdom is a lot like that too.”


Maddy works at a seed bank in Cape Town. She reluctantly travels to Brazil for work to find a rare seed from a plant that could potentially cure cancer. But she faces personal demons and other challenges along the way.

Judging and previous winners

In addition to Habila, the judges on the panel include South African writer Elinor Sisulu and Ivorian writer and Africa39 laureate Edwige Renée Dro.

Past winners of the Etisalat Prize for Literature are Fiston Mwanza Mujila from the Democratic Republic of Congo for Tram 83; South African novelist Songeziwe Mahlangu for Penumbra; and Zimbabwean writer NoViolet Bulawayo for We Need New Names.

Source: Etisalat

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