Kenyan author Makena Onjerika wins the 2018 Caine Prize Award

Though the Caine prize has been critiqued by many writers, it is still one of the most acclaimed awards for African writers. This year’s prize went to Kenyan writer Makena Onjerika for her story Fanta Blackcurrant which was first published in the 2017 Spring edition of Wasafiri, a UK literary magazine.

The story explores the life of a street child named Meri who is trying to use her “intelligence and charisma” to make a living, and who wants to always have a Fanta Blackcurrant to drink.

It captures the street life, and Meri and other street girls doing what they have to do to survive, told from the perspective of another street girl using English words as spoken in a sort of street lingo.

“I did not expect it. I had a person that I was betting for among the shortlisted writers… and then I heard my name and I was like are you sure it was me you mentioned?” She told BBC on Tuesday.

Onjerika had tweeted earlier yesterday that she was looking forward to wine, food, and some nice air conditioning at the Caine Prize dinner, she got that and the prize which comes with a £10,000 (Sh1.3 million) award.

“I am super excited and also still surprised,” the Caine Prize winner said hours after she was announced the winner at an award dinner on 2 July by Dinaw Mengestu, the Chair of the Caine Prize judging panel. Mengestu, in his remarks, praised the story’s narrative as ‘haunting in its humour, sorrow and intimacy’, according to a tweet by Caine Prize.

“The winner of this year’s Caine Prize is as fierce as they come—a narrative forged but not defined by the streets of Nairobi, a story that stands as more than just witness. Makena Onjerika’s ‘Fanta Blackcurrant’ presides over a grammar and architecture of its own making, one that eschews any trace of sentimentality in favour of a narrative that is haunting in its humour, sorrow and intimacy,” said Mengestu.

Following her win, Onjerika announced that she will be donating about a tenth of her winnings to a street rehabilitation center and hopefully working with others for the long term around children’s affairs. With the rest of the money she said to BBC, “I’ll buy a car or maybe a motorcycle to get through traffic jams in Nairobi.”

The shortlist was announced in May and included four other finalists: Nonyelum Ekwempu (Nigeria), Stacy Hardy (South Africa), Olufunke Ogundimu (Nigeria) and Wole Talabi (Nigeria).

Onjerika is the fourth Kenyan writer to win this award alongside Okwiri Oduor (2013), Yvonne Owuor (2003), and Binyavanga Wainaina (2002). She is a graduate of the MFA Creative Writing programme at New York University, and has been published in Urban Confusions and Wasafiri. She is currently working on a fantasy novel.