As soon as Namwali Serpell, a UC Berkeley associate professor of English, was awarded the 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story “The Sack,” she caused a bit of a stir by announcing she would share the prize money with four other writers also nominated for the honor.
The prize, given annually to one African writer for a short story written in English, carries an award of just over $15,000.
Serpell, who was born in Zambia, told CNN’s “African Voices” program that she admires the writing of the other Caine Prize nominees – two from South Africa and two from Nigeria – and doesn’t consider writing a competitive sport.
Shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2010 for “Muzungu,” which she described as classical realism, Serpell said she is pleased that the Caine committee chose her more surreal and experimental “The Sack” for this year’s tribute, which was announced the evening of July 6 at Oxford University’s Bodleian Library.
The prize is named for British patron Sir Michael Harris Caine. Each year’s winner is offered a month’s residence at Georgetown University’s Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice, and invited to take part in the Open Book Festival in Cape Town, Storymoja in Nairobi and the Ake Festival in Abeokuta, Nigeria.
Serpell’s creative writing has been published in McSweeney’s, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Guardian and elsewhere. She received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award for women writers in 2011. Iin 2014 Serpell was chosen as one of the Africa 39, a project of the Hay Festival and Rainbow Book Club Project, which celebrates 39 of the best sub-Saharan African writers under the age of 40.
Serpell told “African Voices” that she comes from a family of book lovers: “My mother was often found as a child underneath the bed with a candle. By the time it was me it was a flashlight, reading way past my bedtime.”
This fall, Serpell will teach a course at Berkeley on the novel and a research seminar on ethics and U.S. fiction. She has taught other classes on the novel, and a course last fall she gave a class on black science fiction.