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Dr Doseline Kiguru

Home country: Kenya

PANGeA partner: University of Nairobi

Year of enrolment: 2013

Department: English

Supervisor: Dr Daniel Roux

Co-Supervisor: Dr Mathilda Slabbert

Dissertation title: Prizing African literature: Awards and cultural value


Abstract:This study investigates the centrality of international literary awards in African literary production with an emphasis on the Caine Prize for African Writing (CP) and the Commonwealth Short Story Prize (CWSSP). It acknowledges that the production of cultural value in any kind of setting is not always just a social process, but it is also always politicised and leaning towards the prevailing social power. The prize-winning short stories are highly influenced or dependent on the material conditions of the stories’ production and consumption. The content is shaped by the prize, its requirements, rules, and regulations as well as the politics asciated with the specific prize. As James English (2005) asserts, “[t]here is no evading the social and political freight of a global award at a time when global markets determine more and more the fate of local symbolic economies” (298). This research focuses on the different factors that influence literary production to demonstrate that literary culture is always determined by the social, political and economic factors framing its existence. The process through which contemporary African literature, mediated through the international prize, acquires value in the global literary marketplace is the major preoccupation of this study. I discuss the prevalence of prize narratives of pain and suffering, aptly defined as “the Caine aesthetic of suffering” (Habila 2013), and argue against a fixed interpretation of the significance of painful social and political realities. The study calls for a holistic approach to the analysis of postcolonial literature which has previously been labelled as exotic by market forces which commodify difference as strangeness. It recognises that African writers are participants in a crowded global literary scene and they, therefore, must learn to align their work with the market forces, usually dictated by the publishing and award institutions, by devising strategies of visibility within the literary world. My research, therefore, foregrounds the importance of marginality in contemporary African literature, acknowledging that for writers who have historically been classified as belonging to the margins of literature it is important to own that position and use it to dismantle the codes of power and domination evident in literary industry. As demonstrated through the prize stories, marginality is a powerful device used in the award sector to give voice to the unheard, the unseen, the dominated, in order to question disempowerment and domination. The study concludes that in the absence of economic autonomy, African literature will have to work within the limitations of external influence and patronage.

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