SOAS University of London

Kenyan writer Makena Onjerika wins 2018 Caine Prize for African Writing at SOAS

3 July 2018

Kenyan writer Makena Onjerika has won the 2018 Caine Prize for African Writing – often described as Africa’s leading literary award, for her short story entitled “Fanta Blackcurrant”, published in Wasafiri (2017).

The ceremony was held for the second time in Senate House in partnership with SOAS University of London and the Centre for African Studies.

Caine Prize shortlisted authors

Four of the five shortlisted authors pictured above, L-R Wale Talabi (Nigeria), Stacy Hardy (S. Africa), winner of the Caine Prize Makeba Onjerika (Kenya) and Olufunke Ogundimu, (Nigeria). Missing Nonyelum Ekwempu (Nigeria). Pic credit: Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp CBE, Director of The Africa Centre

The Chair of the Caine Prize judging panel, award winning Ethiopian-American novelist and writer, Dinaw Mengestu, announced Makena as the winner of the £10,000 prize at an award dinner on Monday 2 July..

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.

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.