The Caine Prize Lecture

The Caine Prize Reading: Makena Onjerika

Monday, March 25, 2019  6:30pm The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room

The Caine Prize for African Writing is a literature prize awarded to an African writer of a short story published in English. The prize was launched in 2000 to encourage and highlight the richness and diversity of African writing by bringing it to a wider audience internationally. The focus on the short story reflects the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition.

Columbia University will host the 2018 Caine Prize winner Makena Onjerikawho was awarded the prize for her short story ‘Fanta Blackcurrant’ published in Wasafiri (2017).

Narrated in the first person plural, “Fanta Blackcurrant” follows 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 we do not know where she went’.

Dinaw Mengestu praised the story in his remarks, saying, “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 is a graduate of the MFA Creative Writing programme at New York University, and has been published in Urban Confustions and Wasifiri. She lives in Nairobi, Kenya, and is currently working on a fantasy novel.

Jennifer Wenzel, Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies at Columbia University, will chair this talk, and Yvette Christianse, Professor of Africana Studies and English Literature at Barnard College, will be the respondent. 

The event is being organized in collaboration with Georgetown University’s Department of English and Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice.

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