Reading Africa Week 2022 – Welcome & African Kid Lit Awards

It’s the first week of December and that means it’s #ReadingAfrica Week!

First launched by Catalyst Press in 2017, more and more readers are sharing their favourite African books on social media with the #ReadingAfrica hashtag. This year, Catalyst Press will host three live panels celebrating writers from Africa.

World Kid Lit is honoured to co-host a panel on Children’s and YA Literature with Catalyst Press on Saturday 10 December at 18:00 UTC. Register here to catch writer and translator Edwige-Renée Dro, author Bridget Krone, Bookdash Executive Director Julia Norrish, writer and publisher Ayo Oyeku and moderator Jessica Powers.

But before that, we’ll be celebrating great books by writers from Africa, the African diaspora and Afrodescendants on the blog all week. We’ll have book reviews, interviews, resources on climate action, and a glimpse into the buzzing Akada Children’s Book Festival in Lagos.

To kick us off, Muna Kalati Director Christian Elongué tells us about three prizes for children’s literature in Africa.

African Kid Lit Awards

Awards and literary prizes can encourage or boost literary expression in African languages. I’d like to start off Reading Africa Week by sharing a brief introduction to the children’s literature award scene in Africa.

1.     Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature

The Sanlam Prize for Youth Literature is a biennial award initiated in 1980 by Tafelberg Publishing, to develop high-quality literature for teenage readers (ages 12-18) and YA novels in all the South African official languages. The competition is only open to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, and Swaziland citizens, who submit their writings in one of the six language categories: English, Afrikaans, Tshivenda, Xitsonga, Nguni and Sotho. Prizes worth R90 000 (approx. 5076.07 USD) are up for grabs and prize-winning authors get their books published by Tafelberg Publishers, catapulting their writing careers to the next level. The last edition was organised in November 2021.

2.     M-Net Literary Awards

M-Net Literary Awards were a group of South African literary awards, awarded from 1991 to 2013. They were established and sponsored by M-Net (Electronic Media Network), a South African television station. In the awards’ fourth year, an award for indigenous African languages was inaugurated, alongside the original English and Afrikaans awards, to encourage writing in indigenous languages.  Some of the famous winners of these awards included Zakes Mda for Ways of Dying in 1997 and Cynthia Jele for Happiness is a Four-letter Word in 2011.

The award was suspended indefinitely after the 2013 season. The pay TV company cited that the reason they were moving away from literature was that they were re-evaluating corporate projects. James Murua, a Kenyan literary critic commented that this was very sad when we know that “Big Brother Africa, the scintillating reality show where viewers watch a bunch of folks sit in a house bored out of their wits for three months is still on”.

3.     Maskew Miller Longman Literature Awards

The Maskew Miller Longman Literature Awards were established in 2007 by Maskew Miller Longman, an educational publishing company in South Africa, to encourage writing in all of South Africa’s 11 official languages[1], with a particular focus on young adult (YA) literature. The genres rotate each year between novels, drama and short stories. Since 2019, with the COVID pandemic outbreak, this literary award has stopped being awarded. We hope it will start again.

There are actually few literary prizes that encourage writing stories in African languages. There are other existing literary prizes for children and young adult literature but I have not included them above because they do not focus on works produced in African languages. For readers who are interested in learning more, Kpotufe Delali from Muna Kalati, explored five of these prizes for African children’s books in French and English and provided 8 recommendations to improve the legitimacy of children’s literature through literary prizes in Africa.

Much work needs to be done to see African children reading stories and books in their own languages.

[1] It was the only competition to invite entries in all 11 official languages.

Christian Elongué is an author and researcher. Dismayed by a lack of Black characters in books available to African children, Elongué founded in 2017 with the goal of building international recognition for African children’s book authors and increasing access to African children’s books. In 2019, he authored An Introduction to Children Literature in Cameroon, the first ever survey of the children’s book industry in Cameroon. Prior to that, he worked with the French National Centre for Children’s Literature. As a founding member of International Board of Book for Young People (IBBY-Cameroon), he has also spent several years developing literacy and educational initiatives as a means of empowering children in West Africa.

Want to know more about Muna Kalati, a fast-growing platform promoting children’s books from Africa? Then read our World Kid Lit interview with Director Christian Elongué here.