THE AKO Caine Prize for African Writing has announced Meron Hadero as the 2021 winner of the prize for her short story ‘The Street Sweep’ published in ZYZZYVA journal in 2018, making her the first Ethiopian writer to win the prize since the its inception in 2000.
The chair of the prize judging panel, Goretti Kyomuhendo, announced Hadero as the winner of the £10,000 prize in a film released on Monday, July 26, on the prize’s YouTube channel.
‘The Street Sweep’ tells a story of Getu, an ambitious 18-year-old Ethiopian street sweeper at the crossroads of his life as he negotiates the power dynamics of foreign aid in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital.
Set against the backdrop of personal trauma, threatening displacement and forced expropriation, the young narrator weighs his opportunities and soon understands the game of survival that leads the story to culminate in a hopeful twist.
In a summary, the story narrates the fate of the young, ingenious generation, determined to push open the doors previously closed on them.
“The genius of this story lies in Hadero’s ability to turn the lens on the clichéd, NGO story in Africa to ‘do good and do it well.”
Kyomuhendo said. “What stood out for the judges was the story’s subtle, but powerful ending, and how everything comes brilliantly together in a clever twist.”
Reacting to her win, Hadero said, “I’m absolutely thrilled. I’m in shock – being shortlisted in itself was a huge honour.”
About Getu, she said: “With ‘The Street Sweep’, he has that threat looming. He’s facing losing his ancestral home, and that’s the real driver of the story that makes him take charge and try to re-write that outcome that seems kind of inevitable.”
Much of the story is set in Addis Ababa’s Sheraton Hotel, where Getu is invited for a party.
“Looking through his eyes, it’s almost a culture shock when he goes there,” Hadero said.
This is not the first time Hadero has entered for the AKO Caine Prize. In 2019, she was shortlisted for the prize for her story ‘The Wall,’ published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern magazine’s Issue 52.
Meron Hadero is an Ethiopian-American writer who was born in Addis Ababa and came to the U.S. via Germany as a young child. She was raised in the US by her parents, who are both medical doctors.
Her sister is the singer, Meklit Hadero, whose support was essential to her success.
Hadero—who holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan, a Juris Doctor (JD) from Yale, and a BA in history from Princeton with a certificate in American Studies—says stories of “refugees, immigrants and those at risk of being displaced” are always the “entry-point emotionally” to her work.
The other shortlisted stories for the 2021 edition of the prize are: Ugandan Doreen Baingana’s ‘Lucky’ published in Ibua Journal; Rwandan Rémy Ngamije’s ‘The Giver of Nicknames,’ published in Lolwe; Kenyan Troy Onyango ‘This Little Light of Mine,’ published in Doek and Ugandan IrynTushabe’s ‘A Separation,’ published in EXILE Quarterly. Each shortlisted writer got £500.
Alongside Goretti Kyomuhendo on the 2021 judging panel were Razia Iqbal, Victor Ehikhamenor, Georgina Godwin and Nicholas Makoha.
Previous winners prize are Sudan Leila Aboulela (2000), Nigerian Helon Habila (2001), Kenyan Binyavanga Wainaina (2002), Kenyan Yvonne Owuor (2003), Zimbabwean Brian Chikwava (2004), Nigerian Segun Afolabi (2005), South African Mary Watson (2006), Ugandan Monica Arac de Nyeko (2007), South African Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008), Nigerian E.C. Osondu (2009), Sierra Leonean Olufemi Terry (2010), Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo (2011), Nigerian Rotimi Babatunde (2012), Nigerian Tope Folarin (2013), Kenyan Okwiri Oduor (2014), Zambian Namwali Serpell (2015), South African Lidudumalingani (2016), Sudanese writer, Bushra al-Fadil (2017), Kenyan Makena Onjerika (2018); Nigerian Lesley Nneka Arimah (2019) and Nigerian-British Irenosen Okojie (2020).
Nigeria Tribune, in June, reported that no Nigerian was shortlisted for the 2021 AKO Caine Prize.
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