Christopher Mlalazi Wins the NAMA

Zimbabwe has ceased to make sense to most people. They have wondered how people could exist in a country where the perecentage of inflation is in the billions, and bread costs millions. Economists don’t even understand in what ways Zimbabwe is a useful case study anymore.

 But there is one place you can always count on to understand a people and the situation they are going through–that place is literature. Already there are signs that the world will be gripped by Zimbabwean literature, understanding for the first time the dynamics of a dire situation.

One writer who has arisen out of this situation is Chrisopher Mlalazi, whose stories catalogue Zimbabwe’s hard hours. His short story collection, “Dancing with Life and Other Stories”, published by aMabooks, has won the highest literary Award in Zimbabwe, the NAMA (National Arts Merit Award) for best first published book.

More developments are occuring in Zimbabwean literature. Faber (UK) and FSG (USA) gave a joint book deal to Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah, a lawayer based in Geneva, whose stories portray contemporary life in Zimbabwe. Another writer, Brian Chikwava, who is based in the UK, has published, with Random House, a novel entitled Harare North, which deals with the struggles of Zimbabwe in the UK.

There are more works too, works that openly are an indictment of failed governance, and others that celebrate life even where it seems impossible.

The Rise of Petina Gappah

In a previous post I shared what search engine terms people used to get to my literary blog Moments in Literature, the terms that drive traffic. Usually, some of them are random terms that have to do with literature, Africa, Zimbabwe, and so on. Once in a while, though, the terms are really interesting; for instance, the ones from yesterday, December 14. I will list them here:

charles chirikure türkiye
poetry reading
memory chirere
the rise of petina gappah
definition of poetry by different poets

Two of the above attracted my attention: someone was looking for Memory Chirere (and they better!) and then someone was thinking of the “rise of Petina Gappah” (you know she is rising). I was prompted to make a search for this rise and here, in part, is what I found:

Petina Gappah | Contributors | GrantaApr 22, 2008 … Granta 103: The Rise of the British Jihad was published in Autumn … Petina Gappah is a Zimbabwean writer and lawyer who lives in Geneva. …
http://www.granta.com/Contributors/Petina-Gappah – 20k – Cached – Similar pages –
Petina Gappah | Contributors | GrantaPetina Gappah. … Granta 103: The Rise of the British Jihad was published in Autumn 2008. … Posts by Petina Gappah. There was 1 post found. …
http://www.granta.com/Contributors/Petina-Gappah?view=contributorAllBlogPosts – 19k – Cached – Similar pages –
More results from http://www.granta.com »
WEALTH OF IDEAS: Watching Petina GappahWatching Petina Gappah. We have been advised by The Africa Report, … Cosmas Mairos, a Poet on the Rise · Marechera Celebration: Call for Contributions …
vasigauke.blogspot.com/2008/11/watching-petina-gappah.html – 81k – Cached – Similar pages –

You will be taken to all the different contributions Petina has made to magazines like Granta, and if you keep going, you will see information about Elegy for Easterly, some of which I am going to share here:
This is the Amazon store front with information to order the book. They have a product description too:

“Petina Gappah is the voice of Zimbabwe. In this astonishingly powerful debut collection, she dissects with real poignancy the lives of people caught up in a situation over which they have no control, as they deal with spiralling inflation, power cuts and financial hardship – a way of life under Mugabe’s regime – and cope with issues common to all people everywhere; failed promises, disappointments and unfulfilled dreams. Compelling, unflinching and tender, “An Elegy for Easterly” is a defining book, and a stunning portrait of a country in chaotic meltdown.”

The other one I liked is by the publisher of the US edition of the book, FSG:

A N E L E G Y F O R E A S T E R LY
Stories

S E T I N T H E C H A O S A N D C O N F U S I O N
O F E V E R Y D AY L I F E I N Z I M B A B W E , A
D E B U T C O L L E C T I O N F U L L O F V E R V E ,
W I T, A N D C O M PA S S I O N

They had a detailed summary of the book:

A woman in a township in Zimbabwe is surrounded by throngs of dusty children but longs for a baby of her own; an old man finds that his new job making coffins at No Matter Funeral Parlor brings unexpected riches; a politician’s widow quietly stands by at her husband’s funeral watching his colleagues bury an empty casket. Petina Gappah’s characters may have ordinary hopes and dreams, but they are living in a world where a loaf of bread costs half a million dollars; where wives can’t trust even their husbands for fear of AIDS; and where people know exactly what will be printed in the newspapers because the news is always, always good. In her spirited debut collection, the Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah brings us the resilience and inventiveness of the people who struggle to live under Robert Mugabe’s regime. She takes us across the city of Harare from the townships beset by power cuts to the manicured lawns of privilege and corruption, where wealthy husbands keep their first wives in the “big houses” while their second wives wait in the “small houses,” hoping for a promotion. Despite their circumstances, the characters in An Elegy for
Easterly are more than victims; they are all too human, with as much capacity to inflict pain as to endure it. They struggle with larger issues common to all people everywhere: failed promises, unfulfilled dreams, and the yearning for something to anchor them to life.

All this information from a search engine term from my blog; keep searching folks!

Chimamanda Adichie: 2008 MacArthur Fellow

This past week, the recipients (of the MacArthur Fellowship) learned in a single phone call from the Foundation that they will each receive $500,000 in “no strings attached” support over the next five years. The new Fellows work across a broad spectrum of endeavors and include a neurobiologist, a saxophonist, a critical care physician, an urban farmer, an optical physicist, a sculptor, a geriatrician, a historian of medicine, and an inventor of musical instruments. All were selected for their creativity, originality, and potential to make important contributions in the future.

Chimamanda Adichie is a young writer who illuminates the complexities of human experience in works inspired by events in her native Nigeria. Adichie explores the intersection of the personal and the public by placing the intimate details of the lives of her characters within the larger social and political forces in contemporary Nigeria. Dividing her time over the last decade between the United States and Nigeria, she is widely appreciated for her stark yet balanced depiction of events in the post-colonial era. In her most recent novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), Adichie unflinchingly portrays the horror and destruction of the civil war following the establishment of the Republic of Biafra. Using multiple narrative voices, a precise movement back and forth in time, and prose that is at once witty and empathetic, she immerses the reader in the psyches of her characters, whose loyalties to each other and their ideals are tested as their world gradually falls apart. In humanizing the Biafran tragedy, Adichie’s novel has enriched conversation about the war within Nigeria while also offering insight into the circumstances that lead to ethnic conflict. A writer of great promise, Adichie’s powerful rendering of the Nigerian experience is enlightening audiences both in her homeland and around the world.

Chimamanda Adichie received a B.A. (2001) from Eastern Connecticut State University, an M.A. (2003) from Johns Hopkins University, and an M.A. (2008) from Yale University. Her additional works include the novel Purple Hibiscus (2003) and short stories that have appeared in such publications as the New Yorker, Granta, and the Virginia Quarterly Review.

© The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, 2005-2008

In Search of Tsitsi Dangarembga

You know when you run a blog, you cannot avoid checking the performance statistics, to see if what you are writing is being read at all. WordPress, the platform for this website, has a feature called “Search Engine Terms’, which tells you what words people searched in order to end up viewing your posts. Nearly daily, the visitors to Moments in Literature come through searches of Tsitsi Dangarembga, using the following terms: bira Dangarembga, interviews with Tsitsi Dangarembga, Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions, Zimbabwean literature Dangarembga, Dangarembga new excerpt, and many others.

So people are looking for Dangarembga, people are talking. And they have reasons to. First, the world is leaning towards focusing on Zimbabwean literature, what with all the drama that the country has been going through. Early next year the world of reading will be greeted with two books by Petina Gappah, which promise to be huge successes (Gappah is a good writer), and there is likely to be hightened interest in the literature of Zimbabwe in general. 

Perhaps, the interest in Dangarembga is a reflection of what’s on the minds of many readers (I am assuming it’s not one person visiting my blog through numerous, if not obsessive, searches for Dangarembga’s works); it is a reflection of the fact that there is renewed interest in her works, or in finding clues about Zimbabwe in her novels.

Of course, Dangarembga recently published the much-awaited-for sequel to Nervous Conditions, which is entitled The Book of Not.   I am reading the book, which is adding layers of meaning to the character of Tambu. Nyasha has been silenced, the younger sister has her legs blown off by a landmine in chapter one, and , as we know, Nhamo is history.  It’s as if Dangarembga was clearing the ground for the story of Tambu to mature, undisturbed ( although it’s disturbed), undistracted (athough it’s distracted). Reading this story leads to a revisionary look at Zimbabwe, connecting the actions of the comrades during the 70s war and the now-old veterans who have been charged of causing much violence in tumultous Zimbabwe. When you look at war through the lens of Dangarembga’s books, you have the advantage of concluding that the revolution sowed the seeds of violence just as it sought freedom. I was little, but I remember that in addition to being everyone’s “brothers”, the comrades were no-nonsense discipliners, shooting village elders if they were found guilty of selling out. Old women and men were charged of witchcraft and were thrashed, activities that branded them for life (because even ten years after independence, village beatings of the witches the war had uncovered continued, for reasons ranging from a former mujubha’s wife miscarrying to reasons for rains falling in Chivi but not in Mazvihwa.) The Book of Not takes me to that world, and helps me make the connection of this culture of violence and repression that was build in the idea for the fight for independence.

Perhaps, that’s why everyone is now looking for Dangarembga, to see a deeper analysis of the Zimbabwean situation as it is prefigured, as well as analyzed, in the novels? Perhaps, assuming it’s indeed everyone that’s searching for Dangarembga.

I too have been looking for Dangarembga, some way of contacting her, an email address, etc, because I had a whole class seeking to ask her some questions about this issue of Nhamo dying to give room for Tambu to become…, or was it something to do with why she took very long to write the sequel. I too have been searching, and here is another reason: I have begun work on a story that features Tambu, but my Tambu will die much sooner than anticipated, and Nhamo, oh, he will be alive, perhaps briefly becoming a soldier (not comrade), and then growing up to leave Zimbabwe for South Africa or some such “overseas”. I want us new Zimbawean writers to start creating characters that communicate with the iconic characters of our literature.  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has begun to reinterpret characters out of Things Fall Apart, giving them new life.

So anyway, people make frequent Dangarembga searches that point them to this blog, which, I think, is phenomenal.

Women Writing Zimbabwe: A Review

The new short story anthology by Weaver Press, Women Writing Zimbabwe, delivers the high quality readers have come to associate with the publisher’s products. It contains fifteen stories by fifteen strong female voices of Zimbabwean literature.  When I recieved the book last week, I was in the middle of Toni Morrison’s Beloved and the Selected Poems of Derek Walcott, but I have since set the two Nobels aside for an adventure into the rich terrain of the newest Weaver stories.

So far, I have read Zvisinei Sandi’s “In Memory of the Nose Brigade”, Petina Gappah’s “In the Heart of the Golden Triangle”, Valerie Tagwira’s “Mainini Grace’s Promise”, Pat Brickhill’s “Senzeni’s Nativity”, Sarah Manyika’s “Mr Wonder”, and Rumbi Katedza’s “Snowflakes in Winter”. Sandi’s story would bring back memories to anyone who remembers the USA/UBA days at the University of Zimbabwe in its satirization of the life of the Nose Brigades versus the SRB (Strong/Severe Rural Background) girls on campus. I wasn’t involved in much campus social life as a student at the UZ, but I remember the conficting values of those students who considered themselves worldly with those who oozed a certain too-rural aura, two camps that tended not to mix, except around exam time, when study groups were formed to balance out potential (some SRB’s tended to be useful resources at such times), but this is just the surface of what the story really deals with: in its simplicity, it exposes the false sense of security, hence the deep-set insecurities of girls who considered themselves more important than the rural grade. Sandi does a good job of exposing some of the superficialities of the Nose Brigades in their efforts to act different and superior–the SRB’s get the last laugh.

Gappah, wow, what a narrator she can create, sharp like a razor and still managing to make you laugh while your heart bleeds. She experiments with the second person narrative point of view, giving the narrator an intrusive quality, much like a violation of your readerly space, because the story she tells could easily sound like your story, then you become aware of the gender differences between you and the narrator and you understand the protagonist as a person who could easily be your sister, niece, aunt. In a humorous way, Gappah exposes the deterioration of family relationships in the context wealth, where the wife knows of the husband’s extra-marital affairs, but her main concern is that he better carry condoms around in order not to bring the dreaded diseases home. The “small house” (that is, the mistress) ,no, that does not bother her that much, and even if it did, she met this man as his mistress, so then she focuses on enjoying the wealth.

This theme of wealth and the deterioration of morality is also the focus of Manyika’s story, whose narrator is satirical in her indictment of the moral decay. “Mr Wonder” starts in Avondale, Harare, and takes us to San Francisco (familiar terrain: Golden Gate Park, twenty-hour fitness) and back to Harare. Through some emotional and marital blackmail, the wife is able to make the husband purchase her an  American vacation. Of course, that works for him since he will have all the time to meet new women back home, while the wife in the USA flirts with young, handsome males. Meanwhile, the family driver who is made to accompany her discovers that he can use his religion to raise money as an African guru. When he is about to settle in a San Francisco of dollars, the family returns to Zimbabwe, and his dreams are derailed. The story returns to Zimbabwe too soon, and too playfully, but the reader is required to fill in the gaps. I would have wanted to see more of San Francisco, perhaps the woman actually getting in an affair that works, creating a “small house” of her own. Still, the linguistic acrobatics of the story and the richness of the implied possibilities make this story worth investing fitfteen minutes in reading it. 

 Pat Brickhill’s story was at first frustratingly slow and nearly pointless, until I realized that these distinct qualities are the source of its strength. It is not deceptively simple; it is different, focused on giving ordinary details about ordinary characters doing ordinary things. It pulls you in with its opening: “Parched roadside, grass, crackling leaves.” Then we are taken to a village, where, it seems, the narrator is intent on showing everything she sees on the terrain and the lifestyle of the villagers, until hers becomes cute story about caring and loving, the desire to raise and care for a child. Oh, when you see that it celebrates life for life’s sake, you want to read on, and before you know it, the story is beginning to interest you, even though you remember that you wanted to stop reading it on page two. By the time you finish you want to defend your rationale for having spent nearly thirty minutes reading it, but now you are holding a new baby with the characters. Who would dare say that’s a bad thing? Life portrayed; life celebrated.

I first read Tagwira’s story when it first came out on African Writing Online, and I remember its shocking ending. It is the kind of story you read and you become really upset. I can see it causing some to cry. The Mainini’s sin in this story is her state of victimization, and to Sarai, the niece, Mainini cannot be a victim of HIV/AIDS, a kind of how-dare-you turn of events. Her promise was to continue taking care of the orphaned Sarai and her siblings. Tagwira is a true advocate of the impoverished and AIDS-stricken, a voice of the disadvantaged.

 Rumbi Katedza’s “Snowflakes in Winter” is the story of Zimbabwe’s Diaspora, exposing the lives of Zimbabweans away from home. After the story takes the reader through the challenges of life away from home, the assault on cultural values that can easily happen, the restlessness and the confusion, it ends by emphacising the importance of family. Like most of the other stories, it has an element of humor that’s almost unbelievable given the circumstances the characters are in.

That’s what makes Zimbabwean literature breathtaking, that while it may send you to tears, some of those tears might just the creeping in of joy, when one feels the tug of hope even where hope seems impossible. This is a book of diverse stories that demonstrate to the reader that the fictional characters coming out troubled Zimbabwe have much to teach the world about endurance, impossible joy, and hope.

Zimbawean Author Gets Joint Book Deal

In a posting on her blog, Petina Gappah has announced, and confirmed, the news that she has secured a two-book deal with Faber & Faber in the UK and Farrar, Straus, and Giroux in the US. The first book, An Elegy for Easterly, a story collection, comes out in April 2009 in the UK and June 2009 in the US, while the second, The Book of Memory, my first novel, comes out in 2010. In addition, writes Gappah, “Mouria, Gyldendal Norsk and Bonniers, three of the classiest and most respected publishers in Europe have bought the rights to both books in The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, so the books will come out at same time in Dutch, Norwegian and Swedish.”

“I am so thrilled, both for myself, but also for Zimbabwean and African writers,” stated Gappah in an email message. This is the first such joint deal offered to any writer by Faber-FSG.

If you have read any of Gappah’s fiction and other writings, especially her political commentary at such forums as the Guardian, Granta, Prospect, The Zimbabwe Times, you will already know her a facility with language and her riveting story-telling style.

Great news for Zimbabwe and the African continent, wonderful news for readers everywhere. I am looking forward to reading these books. For the first time I will be able to walk into a Borders or Barnes & Noble and actually find a book by a Zimbabwean author on the shelf, that is, if I even have to walk past the store-front New York Times bestseller list display!

Petina Gappah is a Zimbabwean writer and lawyer based in Geneva, Switzerland. She holds a doctorate from the Karl-Franz University in Graz, Austria, a Master of Laws degree from Cambridge University and a Bachelor of Laws Honours degree from the University of Zimbabwe.

Writers & their Audience: Dambudzo Marechera

I believe new emerging writers anywhere can learn something about writing from Marechera, so I make it a point that when I am teaching a fiction-writing course, I include the flash story “Night on My Harmonica” on the list of sample writings students should read. I ask students to write personal responses in which they interpret the story according to what they know already, or if someting they don’t understand comes up in a story, to do some research. Well, the last time I used the short story in a class the students had not option to do research because the exercise was an in-class assignment; they were reading the story for the first time without having been given a context. So here are some of the issues the responses focused on:

1. The main character is an alcoholic: The signs were clear. The readers leaned towards a pschoanalytic approach, focusing on the behavioural symptoms of a life affected by alcoholism. The main character is always in pubs: ” I am always in pubs buying the cheap joy pint by pint”. The pub life has affected the man’s relationship with his girlfriend, who complains that he does not her anywhere, except to the pubs. This is a compaint the readers are familiar with, since quality time is an ingredient of fun relationships.

Poetry and its Readers

In his Poetry Home Repair Manual, Ted Kooser advises poets to remember that poetry uses language, which is meant to enable communication with other people. He aptly describes the poet’s job as not involving writing works only the poet can understand, but ones that make sense to the reader.

On the same day I read this advice, I also chanced upon Charles Simic’s Sixty Poems. I think when one becomes a US Poet Laureate, there is really nothing stopping him or her from using titles like Poems, Forty Poems, My Poems, etc. I bought Simic’s book (I have read many good reviews about him and his current title is something to make a reader curious).

So far I have read the first three poems of Sixty Poems. I fell in love with the first two, “Toward Nightfall” and “Against Whatever It is That’s Encroaching”. The third one, “St. Thomas Acquinas” started off strong, immediately arresting me with its first line: “I left parts of myself everywhere”. Then I started going “against whatever was encroaching” when I read the following lines:

” She had traveled to darkest Africa.
She had many stories to tell about the jungle.”

“A black man and I stole a woman’s dress.
It was of silk; it shimmered.”

I stopped reading and started looking for my receipt (that’s the only way I can get a full refund). In Kooser’s view, I was acting like your regular (but most important) readers, “slightly on their guard.” The first-impression stereotypical message in those lines made me lose interest, but that was temporary; I remembered I was one of those readers who actually buy poetry books and read them thoroughly. So I finished reading the poem and watched it climb the heights of grand application to the human experience, and I began to remember that as poets we create personae for our works, and I started thinking….”…traveled to darkest [someone making fun of Conrad?] Africa/….stories about the jungle.” Jungle? Jungle.

I ordered a tea (I aways get tea in this Wi-Fi place), and started editing my own poetry, making sure it grabs and sustains the reader’s friendship, or some such sweet nothing in Ted Kooser’s manual.

Ernest Hemingway and the Country He Called Africa

Not too long ago (in January), I joined a few African writers in expression our dissatisfaction with a publisher’s reference to Africa as a country in the “Foreword” of an anthology of stories by African authors. The publisher (Author-Me.com) and the editor (Winona Rasheed) apologized for the error and promised to reissue the books with corrections. Still, both Author-Me and Rasheed, in their correspondence, managed to throw in the word “nation” in reference to all of Africa, and we left it at that; at least two publications were going to be corrected.

Since then, I have somehow been carrying out these internal debates, thinking about the history of Africa, thinking that perhaps Winona Rasheed does not (deep down) care so much about the imperialistic demarcations that led to the Africa map as we know it today; that somewhere in the discourse on Africa, does an argument by an Africa author defending the state of Africa as a continent end up self-defeating when one considers the made-up, often divisive and conflict-infested boundaries imposed by outsiders on Africa? Anyway, that Authorme-Rasheed incident left me thinking and searching for clues as to how this argument may be made to make sense; I usually seek clues in literature first.

And Ernest Hemingway, a writer I have always not had time to read, is no help.  Listen to him in “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”:

“I love it. I’ve loved Africa… I’ve loved the country.”

“I love it too.”

Do I hear someone saying: So?

Well, “All these years I’ve thought Hemingway was not Rider Haggard.” I can’t bring in Joseph Conrad yet; I’m still entranced by that well-crafted nightmare  “Heart of Darkness.”  

But wait until I speed through Green Hills of Africa!

New Munyori Issue on February 15

Question: Your persona in “Child of the Streets” presents a very interesting angle, all alone and lost among thousands of other city dwellers. Does he perhaps represent your own exile?

Zvisinei Sandi’s Answer: Giggs tends to look rather like a mental image, doesn’t he? Almost like the majestic bull with the evil leprechaun sitting on it’s back. But Giggs is a real person – a lonely, homeless teenager, strong and full of promise, but wasted among Harare’s rubbish pits. I met him a few years ago while interviewing homeless people for my novel, Vagrant Souls. We sat and talked, shared my packed lunch, I gave him the few Zim dollars in my purse, and then he walked away. I never saw him again. “Child of the Streets” is a mixture of what he told me, and the impression I had of him. On whether he reminds me of my own exile… Yes, he does. Rather poignantly.

[Appearing in Munyori Poetry Journal on February 15].

Preview of new Munyori Poetry Journal Issue

The next issue of Munyori will showcase works by these ten poets: Zvisinei Sandi, Prince Mensah, Tim Kahl, Shilla Mutamba, Carol Lyn Grellas, Jerry Barrow, Tad Richard, Jason Viscanti, Gary Beck, and Gu Xie. Three new interviews will feature Zvisinei Sandi, Prince Mensah, and Tim Kahl. As always, Munyori welcomes essays and book reviews.

Things Fall Apart 50th Anniversary Celebration

When Chinua Achebe wrote Things Fall Apart 50 years ago, he did not have any idea that the novel would gain the influence that has made it a towering influence in African literature. The novel has sold over 11 million copies worldwide and has been translated in over a dozen languages. Considered by many a rich introduction to African literature, the novel has touched the lives of many worldwide.

Peter Monaghan, a correspondent for The Chronicle of Higher Education  covered the event marking the 50th Anniversary in New York City.  Achebe is reported to have said:  “I was alone in my room, scribbling away, and if nobody had paid any attention at all to me, I wouldn’t have been terribly surprised.”

“Things Fall Apart does not idealize Nigerians; far from it. In Okonkwo, for example, Achebe depicts courage and nobility but also ignorance and cruelty. The mighty Okonkwo beats his wives and kills a child. Fellow villagers leave twin infants in the bush to die because twins are considered evil, and mutilate the bodies of dead children so that their ogbanje, or spirits, do not return to torment their mothers again,” Monoghan writes.

Literary Contests & their Discontents

This week witnessed what Wordsbody called a “stunner” in the world of literary contests when Zadie Smith announced that she had failed to find a winning story from the 2008 entries to The Willesden Herald Short Story Competition . In a letter to interested parties, she revealed that the literary world was in an appalling state, with bookstores increasingly stocking their shelves with poor quality, mediocre, “cookie-cutter” stories. Smith, a writer whose novels I own, went on to state that she and the other judges had been turned off by “hundreds of jolly stories of multicultural life on the streets of North London. Nor are we exclusively interested in cutesy American comedies, or self-referential post-modern vignettes, or college satires.”

She revealed what may count for good writing: “To be even clearer: if these things turn up and are brilliantly written, they will not be ignored. But we also welcome all those whose literary sympathies lie with Rimbaud or Capote, with Irving Rosenthal or Proust, with Svevo or Trocchi, with Ballard or Bellow, Denis Cooper or Diderot, with Coetzee or Patricia Highsmith, with street punks or Elizabethans, with Southern Gothic or with Nordic Crime, with Brutalists or Realists, with the Lyrical or the Encyclopedic, in the ivory tower, or amongst the trash that catches in the gutter. We welcome everybody. We have only one principle here: MAKE IT GOOD.”

Of course the world woke up to be shocked by these words and it immediately responded, furiously. Within ten hours, Zadie Smith and company posted another letter, which, in part, read:

“Bowing to common fury, the prize will be split equally amongst the shortlist, all of whom have written strong and worthy stories. Our honest problem was that we didn’t feel we had found a stand-out for the big prize, and we were trying to set the highest standard, but we did it clumsily and, as many have argued, there’s no reason not to award the money, since it’s there. Maybe you lot can read them when they’re up and choose your own favourite.”

Then things took a suprising turn; a majority of the writers declined the generous offer. Who would, right? The judges then announced they would stick to their original decision of keeping the money until next year. But comments kept flooding, and blogosphere went haywire, leading to another emotional turn of events: The judges decided then to give the money to charity and threatened to cancel the competition altogether.

Interesting moments in literature. MFAs should feast on this next week.

The Willesden Herald To Give Story Prize to Charity

First, the money was not going to be given away since no entrant had been “good enough”; then, responding to the fury of the writers, Willesden Herald was going to  split among the ten shortlist writers, who, feeling insulted, declined the offer. Willesden Herald then decided to stick to the original decision of not giving the award, but writer talk continued, and now the money is headed for England’s Comic Relief charity. The plug may be pulled on the competition altogether.

Writes Ossian of Willesden Herald: “Thanks again to all, and apologies for disrupting and upsetting so many people, but I hope you will feel that this outcome [giving the money away to charity] is an adaquate penance.”

This Time the Writers Tell Zadie Smith “No, Thank You”.

“As the majority of the writers have declined the offer of money and being listed and having their stories on the website, it has been decided that the original judgement will stand”.

No matter how one looks at this matter, it comes back to Zadie Smith deciding that the shortlist writers to the  The Willesden Herald  Short Story contest were not “good enough” to warrant giving away the Prize. The writers, in declining the offer of splitting the money, are making a strong statement about their integrity, that one author’s dismissal, first, of their work, and her accomodation, later, of the stories as close to being good enough to receive a piece of the Prize, is not a good reason to act desperate. Good for them!

Let’s take a look at another quote from the Prize: ” Zadie was so disturbed by the idea of not selecting a winner that she even suggested she stand back and that the short-listing judges pick the winner. However, this would have deprived us of the patronage of a writer of Zadie’s stature and so this honourable offer was declined.” 

The judges have given their last word on this issue, and they look forward to writer enthusiasm for next year’s contest. They should double the prize money, and include the interest this year’s amount is going to gain.

The judges had more to say:   ” we do not regret running a competition that looks for excellence.”