Kenyan poet Khadija Abdalla Bajaber has been announced as the Graywolf Press Africa Prize 2018 winner for her manuscript, The House of Rust.
She received a $12,000 advance and her manuscript gets published in English by Graywolf Press and in Italian.
The prize was being judged principally by Igoni Barrett famous for his Kafkaesque novel, Blackass, and his short story collection, Love Is Power Or Something Like That.
People in the Kenyan literary scene will remember him for his stint working for local publishers a few years ago.
Bajaber’s work has been published in Brainstorm Kenya and the Enkare Review, and she is the assistant poetry editor for the Panorama Travel Journal’s East African Issue.
Planned for publication in 2020, The House of Rust is the story of a young Mombasa-born girl who goes to the sea to search for her fisherman father, accompanied by a scholar’s cat.
She blends the folk stories of post-independence Mombasa with a coming of age tale, as her protagonist faces the monsters ahead and the demons of her past.
Bajaber’s magical realist debut explores selfishness and independence, family loyalty and individuality.
“The House of Rust is an exhilarating journey into the imagination of an author for whom the fantastic is not only written about, it is performed on the page.
She has infused new life into the age-old story of adventure on the high seas, with this heroic first novel she has struck deep into that mythic realm explored by everyone from Homer to Hemingway,” said Barrett in his judge’s statement.
“On the surface this is a limpid tale, a straightforward quest story of a young Mombasa-born girl seeking her missing fisherman father, but it is eddied and enriched by what lurks beneath the surface of both the sea and the prose. Everything in this story sparkles: the fierceness of the narrative voice, the unimpeachable dramatic timing, the sumptuous imagery, the insightful characterization, the spirited wordplay, the honed wisdom of the dialogue, the bold imagination.
Everywhere in this story is evidence of a mind that understands that we read not only to see other worlds or lives, but to feel them.”
“It’s an honour and a privilege to have had my work in the hands of such genuine lovers of literature and know that they felt a real emotional connection with what I wrote,” said Bajaber.
“Everyone at Graywolf has been so open and enthusiastic, and Mr. Barrett’s encouragement has meant the world to me. Graywolf is a dream publisher, especially when it comes to introducing writing from the continent to different audiences,” Bajaber continued, “There is no doubt in my mind that there are many talented writers on the continent, discovered and undiscovered.
“I hope there are more opportunities ahead and just as importantly more access to them because so many writers could use these opportunities, if only they’d had the privilege of accessing them.
“I’m grateful that the world I built in the book resonated with someone, it further validates that there is a place for our stories and for our voices, in all their variations.”