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AFRICA’S LEADING LITERARY AWARD: THE CAINE PRIZE

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Named in celebration of the late Sir Michael Harris Caine (17th June 1927 – 20th March 1999); the Caine Prize, as he intended, is open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English and its focus is on the short story. Sir Michael Caine, an English businessman, was the former Chairman of Booker Group Plc – which is the largest food wholesale operator in the United Kingdom. He was the Chairman of the 'Africa 95' arts festival in Europe and Africa in 1995, president of the Royal African Society (1996 – 1999) and for nearly 25 years, Chairman of the Booker Prize management committee, which he helped set up. Shortly before he died, Caine was working on the idea of a prize to encourage the growing recognition of the worth of African writing in English, its richness and diversity, by bringing it to a wider audience. His friends and colleagues decided to carry this idea forward and establish a prize of £10,000 to be awarded annually in his memory, it’s known as “The Caine Prize.” Baroness Nicholson and NoViolet Bulawayo (Winner of the 2011 Caine Prize) The Caine Prize, sometimes called the "African Booker", has become ‘the’ literary award for best original short story by an African writer (whether in Africa or elsewhere), published in the English language. The £10,000 prize, which was founded in the United Kingdom in 2000, is supported by a number of organisations such as the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust, the Booker Prize Foundation, DOEN Foundation, China Africa Resources plc, CSL Stockbrokers, the British Council, the Marit & Hans Rausing Foundation, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the Headley Trust, the Esmee Fairbairn Charitable Trust, the Cairns Charitable Trust, the Sunrise Foundation, the Von Clemm Charitable Trust, the Gibbs Trust, the Thistle Trust, the Beit Trust, the Royal Over-Seas League, Commonwealth Writers, the cultural initiative from the Commonwealth Foundation, The Lennox & Wyfold Foundation, Sarova Hotels, Bata Shoes (Kenya & Zimbabwe) Ltd, Kenya Airways etc; and friends of Sir Caine in the UK, Europe, USA, China and Africa. Thus the Caine Prize is not supported by an endowment; rather, it’s a charity that raises funds each year to continue to support its work, making it wholly dependent on donations. The first prize was awarded in 2000 at the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in Harare to Sudanese housewife-turned-writer, Leila Aboulela for her short story "The Museum", in a competition which attracted entries from 20 African countries. While the 2001 Prize was awarded at the Nairobi Book Fair in September 2001, the winner is currently announced at a dinner in Oxford in July, where the shortlisted candidates are all invited, which is part of a week of activities for the candidates, including book readings, book signings and press opportunities. Leila Aboulela by Vaida V. Nairn The Patrons of the Caine Prize are all African winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature - Wole Soyinka, Nadine Gordimer and J M Coetzee. There are 50 council members of the Caine Prize, with Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, Sir Michael Caine’s second wife and widow as President, Ben Okri, the Nigerian poet and novelist and the 1991 winner of the Booker Prize, as the Vice-President. He also chaired the first panel of Caine Prize Judges, in 2000, while Jonathan Taylor is the chairman. Here are some quick facts about the prize: 1.      Nigeria has produced the most winners of the prize (5 winners), while Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa come second (2 winners each). 2.      Unpublished works are not eligible for the Caine Prize, thus submissions should be made by publishers only. 3.      Only one story per author will be considered in any one year, and submissions should specify which African country the author comes from. 4.      Only fictional work is eligible, as stories for children, factual writing, plays and biography are not eligible. So is any work shorter than 3000 words. The £10,000 cash prize is for the winning author, while a travel award and a £500 cash prize for each of the short-listed candidates (up to five in all). The Winner and short-listed authors are always invited to participate in writers’ workshops in Africa and the UK.     Written By:Olusola Agbaje

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