First Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prizes announced

Winners of the new Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature, selected from among 65 entries, have been announced. The award recognizes excellent writing in African languages and encourages translation from, between and into African languages. It is supported primarily by Mabati Rolling Mills of Kenya, Cornell’s Office of the Vice Provost for International Affairs and the Africana Studies and Research Center.

Mukoma Wa Ngugi, assistant professor of English and co-founder of the prize, said, “The amount of support we have received for the prize shows that there is hunger and room for writing in African languages, that the African literary tradition can flourish in African languages and that is possible to fund the growth of African languages through African-led philanthropy.”

Anna Samwel received first prize for fiction for “Penzi la Damu,” and Mohammed K. Ghassani received first prize for poetry for “N'na Kwetu.” Second prize went to Enock Maregesi for “Kolonia Santita” (fiction) and third prize to Christopher Bundala Budebah for “Kifaurongo” (poetry).

The prizes will be presented at the Kwani Literary Festival Dec. 3 at the Capital Club in Nairobi, Kenya. First-prize winners will receive $5,000 in the categories of fiction and poetry; second prize is $3,000 and third prize is $2,000. Samwel’s winning entry will be published in Kiswahili by East African Educational Publishers, and Ghassani’s book of poetry will be translated and published by the Africa Poetry Book Fund.

The six judges said that the winners used “captivating, measured, flowing and sometimes humorous poetic language” to address issues facing East African societies, such as drugs and the harm they unleash globally; gender relations and women’s rights; and political corruption. “This is African neo-realism in an African language at its best,” they said.

Linda B. Glaser is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.

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