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  • Eddie Hewitt

Kudos to Brittle Paper

Congratulations to Brittle Paper on hosting their second, annual, prestigious review of contemporary African literary brilliance. A huge amount of thought has gone into this engaging and comprehensive process of reading, analysis, appreciation, judging and reward for the very best examples in the various genres.

One of the Cultural announcements of the year

(Image via the Brittle Paper website)

The build-up has been great fun, stretched out over a tantalising period, whetting literary appetites. All has now been revealed in an exciting dénouement. The eagerly awaited announcement of the winners was made on the evening of November 19th. This was a second dramatic night in succession, in virtual terms this time, following the London Evening Standard Theatre Awards the night before.

Full details of all the Brittle Paper winners and their entries can be found here:

The explanations for the choices have been finely constructed and set out, and I would say the whole competition process is worthy of an award in itself. The judges encourage us to delve into all the categories, not just the winning entries. Maybe, in some cases, for the first time. The appraisals are incisive, with some killer lines in summing up the reasons why the winning entries stood out.

This all points to authoritative, in-depth analysis and appreciation, extensive literary knowledge, critical thinking, awareness and connectivity with a vast, fast-spreading, online community. Much praise, then, goes to Ainehi Edoro, Otosirieze Obi-Young and the Brittle Paper team.

Founding Editor Ainehi Edoro, doing one of the many things she does best

(photo via Brittle Paper's Twitter feed)

Deputy Editor Otosirieze Obi-Young, helping to take Brittle Paper to new heights

(photo via Otosirieze's website)

If I have one favourite line from their summing up (I don’t since there are so many exquisite lines) it is this:

“Literary confessionality at its most bare”.

But then, I rather have a predilection for Creative non-fiction. This gets the virtual award ceremony off to a great start. Brittle Paper have chosen Sibongile Fisher’s Miseducation of Gratitude. This links nicely with the upcoming Lauryn Hill 20th Anniversary tour, though I suspect Sibongile’s entry has more than made this category her own. I note "She blends literature and trauma into a musical framework".

Next comes Poetry, with the award going to Itiola Jones for A Field, any Field. Brittle Paper refer to “lines shrouded in intimacy” and “lovers doing to each other what lovers do”. I’ve struggled with poetry over the years, but this description of mystery and unbaring seems to make it diificult for anyone to ignore. My literary emotions sometimes get the better of me and I will try harder with this genre. The poet’s reaction to winning this category was delightful. Itiola tweeted:

“I started laughing then I started crying & I’m still weeping lol. I won the Brittle Paper Award in Poetry. Thanks to my hero-friend @SonOfOlokun for nominating me. I’m so so grateful. Honored to be alongside these other genius African writers.” @isjonespoetry

In the Fiction category, Stacy Hardy is commended for Involution, and the judges are struck by her presentation of “a continental culture dominated by a brand of social realism”. Now this approach really does appeal to me, even if the actual subject might prove rather challenging and is perhaps not intended for men in the first instance. Still, call me mischievous, but there is far too much magical realism around, so I’ll happily grasp this social contribution.

In the Essays and Think Pieces category, Panashe Chigumadzi is the winner and her entry History Through the Body or Rights of Desire, Rights of Conquest is adjudged to be "a timely work that leaves us pondering power and privilege”. I’ve had These Bones Will Rise Again on my wishlist for a while already. It has been a momentous year. I will now add the author's analysis of J.M. Coetzee's approach to “race, gender, sex, land, and power in South African literature, politics, and everyday living” in his novel Disgrace. As ever I have so much to catch up on.

Finally, for the Anniversary Award, Shailja Patel is chosen for her entry On Colonial Theory. The judges praise this as “the perfect meeting point of viral content and intellectual substance”, which seems to me to be one of the essential strengths of Brittle Paper itself. A vibrant platform for contemporary discussion of matters of great cultural expression and advancement. It was clear earlier in the year that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s rash and dismissive comments on postcolonial theory stung many for whom this is a matter of utmost importance. There are many of us. Here, Brittle Paper have recognised a scholarly “relentless critiquing in reiteration of the irreducible relevance of postcolonial theory”.

And so, the online event…..does not draw to a close. The awards have been presented, but the conversation is open and ongoing, and will continue to be noticed and commented on by a buzzing, wide-ranging, online literary community. We will be further exploring, learning from and gaining great pleasure from the contributions of those recognised here, as well as the other contenders who made the shortlists and everyone else whose words impact our lives in all of these areas.

The shortlisted entrants for the 2018 Awards (photo via Brittle Paper)

This has been a fascinating, enriching and uplifting event, and one which has opened up many great opportunities for both reading and engagement, online and on paper. Bravo Brittle Paper and all involved!

© Eddie Hewitt 2018


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