subscribe: Posts | Comments

Chika Unigwe wins Nigerian Prize for Literature


Nigerian writer Chika Unigwe is the 2012 recipient of the Nigerian Prize for Literature for her novel, On Black Sisters’ Street.

A board of judges announced Unigwe as the winner of the $100,000 prize on November 1 on Victoria Island, Lagos.

Unigwe’s novel beat two other novels in the shortlist— Only a Canvas by Olusola Olugbesan and Onaedo: The Blacksmith’s Daughter by Ngozi Achebe, niece of Chinua Achebe.

The judges said of the shortlist: “By coincidence, the three novels deal with issues concerning the plight of women in the past and in the present.

“On Black Sisters’ Street is focused specifically on the very precarious situation of women, particularly the issue of sexual slavery.

“In her depiction of the socio-economic conditions in Nigeria, Unigwe displays grasp of narrative techniques as well as excellent descriptive capabilities.”

On Black Sisters’ Street (Jonathan Cape, 2009), Unigwe’s sixth novel, focuses upon the lives of four African women who are recruited into prostitution in Antwerp, Belgium.

When Sisi, one of the sex workers, is murdered, her death becomes a catalyst for the women to bond through their life stories, stories that define the women beyond their roles in the red-light district of Antwerp.

New York Times reviewer Fernanda Eberstadt says of the novel: “[Unigwe] insists that we regard her four central characters as cool-eyed gamblers, not passive victims, as women willing to play ‘the trump card that God has wedged in between their legs’ in exchange for the material goods they crave, the chance of coming home rich enough to buy their families cars, apartments and businesses.”

When asked how she came to write On Black Sisters’ Street, Unigwe has said in an interview: “I come from a very conservative, catholic home where ‘sex’ wasn’t a word we could use. Then I moved to Belgium and to my shock, saw prostitutes behind display windows.

“When I was told that a majority of the black prostitutes in Antwerp were from Nigeria, my curiosity could no longer be contained. I had to find out why anyone would come so far to work as a prostitute , I had to find out their stories.”

Other reviewers have also favourably commented on Unigwe’s fiction.

In a review of Unigwe’s latest novel, Night Dancer, Bernadine Evaristo describes Unigwe as “one of the most probing, thought-provoking writers of the recent renaissance in African fiction.

“Many of these are female, bringing hitherto submerged stories about African women to the fore.”

Chika Unigwe has a PhD in Literature from the University of Leiden and is the author of  six novels, two poetry collections and numerous short stories published in journals and anthologies.

Her latest novel, Night Dancer (Jonathan Cape, 2012), focuses on the difficulties of living as a woman on her own terms in a rigidly patriarchal African culture.

With the Nigerian Prize for Literature, Chika Unigwe adds to her growing accolades.

In 2003, she was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing.

She has also won the 2004 BBC Short story Competition and a Commonwealth Short Story Competition award. Her short story made the top 10 of the Million Writers Award for best online fiction.

In July 2012, On Black Sisters’ Street was longlisted for the 2012 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa

Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas  (NLNG) instituted the Nigerian Prize for Literature in 2004 to promote excellence in writing and book production in Nigeria.

Each year the prize rotates among literary genres of prose fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature.

The Nigerian Prize for Literature is the largest prize for literature in Africa.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *