The Kenyan Writer, Makena Onjerika is Finally Awarded 2018 Caine Prize

By Alexander Opicho
Makena Onjerika
Makena Onjerika

Makena Onjerikahas won the 2018 Caine Prize for her short story Fanta Blackcurrant published in Wasafiri in 2017. Onjerika is the fourth writer from Kenya to win the Caine Prize. The previous ones are Binyavanga Wainaina in 2002, Yvonne Owuor in 2003, and OkwiriOduor in 2013. On giving out the prize the chair of judges for the prize,Dinaw Mengestupraised Onjerika by pointing out that;‘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.’

Makena who is a graduate of the MFA Creative Writing programme at New York University, has been published in Urban Confusions and Wasafiri. Makena iscurrently living in Nairobi.She wrote Fanta Blackcurrant byNarrating in the first person plural. This story is about Meri, a street child of Nairobi, who makes a living using her natural intelligence and charisma, but wants nothing more than a big Fanta Blackcurrant for her to drink every day and it never finish. While it seems Meri’s natural wit may enable her to escape the streets, days follow days and years follow years, and having turned to the sex trade, she finds herself pregnant. Her success stealing from Nairobi’s business women attracts the attention of local criminals, who beat her and leave her for dead. After a long recovery, Meri crossed the river and then the narrators do not know where she went.

The 2018 panel of judges was chaired by Ethiopian novelist Dinaw Mengestu. On making an announcement Mengestu pointed out that Makena Onjerika was chosen from a five-name shortlist that included: South Africa’s Stacy Hardy, for Involution published in Short Story Day Africa’s Migrations: New Short Fiction from Africa;NonyelumEkwempu, for American Dream published in Red Rock Review and republished in The Anthem; OlufunkeOgundimu, for The Armed Letter Writers published in New Orleans Review‘s The African Literary Hustle; and Wole Talabi, for Wednesday’s Story published in Lightspeed Magazine.

The £10,000 Caine Prize is awarded to the best 3,000-10,000-word short story by an African writer. Previous winners of the Caine Prize are: Sudan’s Leila Aboulela (2000); Nigeria’s HelonHabila (2001); Kenya’s Binyavanga Wainaina (2002); Kenya’s Yvonne Owuor (2003); Zimbabwe’s Brian Chikwava (2004); Nigeria’s SegunAfolabi (2005); South Africa’s Mary Watson (2006); Uganda’s Monica Arac de Nyeko (2007); South Africa’s Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008); Nigeria’s EC Osondu (2009); Sierra Leone’s Olufemi Terry (2010), Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo (2011); Nigeria’s RotimiBabatunde (2012); Nigeria’s Tope Folarin (2013); Kenya’s OkwiriOduor (2014); Zambia’s NamwaliSerpell (2015); South Africa’s Lidudumalingani (2016); and Sudan’s Bushra al-Fadil (2017).

The Caine Prize was hit by administrative challenges during the early part of this year,especially when Lizzy Attree, the Prize Director since 2011, left and joined Short Story Day Africa; and then novelist Alain Mabanckou resigned from the panel of judges. But Last MonthDele Fatunlawas named a new Administrator of the prize.