- Namwali Serpell is the first Zambian writer to win the Caine prize for African writing, for a short story titled The Sack [which can be downloaded as a PDF here]. The story explores the power struggle between two men, one very ill, and the woman who came between them. Her story was about two men who had known each other since childhood, how they have gone through “a long process of trying to build a political movement together, which failed, and in the process falling in love with the same woman, who died. It’s about trying to come to terms with that”.
- Serpell was born in Zambia to a British-Zambian professor of Psychology at the University of Zambia and her mother an economist who worked for the U.N. She moved to Baltimore at age nine in 1989, studied literature at Yale and Havard Universities. She has lived in California since 2008.
- Namwali Serpell teaches English at the University of California, Berkeley as an Associate Professor. Her writing has been published in McSweeney’s, The Believer, Bidoun, Callaloo, Tin House, n+1, The Caine Prize Anthology, and a collection, Should I Go to Grad School? (Bloomsbury, 2014). Her first published short story, “Muzungu,” was selected for The Best American Short Stories 2009, shortlisted for the 2010 Caine Prize for African Literature, and anthologized in The Uncanny Reader (St. Martins, 2015).
- She is now working on a novel. “I’m pitching it as the great Zambian novel you didn’t know you wanted to read,” she said. “It’s a sprawling multi-generational saga, which travels between many different countries. I’m about a third of the way through.”
- She has been shortlisted for the Caine prize before in 2010 for her first published story, “Muzungu”.
- She loves to visit Zambia. “I go home to Zambia quite frequently, more so now that I can afford the plane tickets! Things are slower there in a way that doesn’t feel bogged down, it just feels comfortable.” “You can do two or three things in a day, and that’s enough. It’s very different from the U.S.”
- She will be sharing her £10,000 ($15,400) prize money with the four other shortlisted writers. This is her reason – “It felt like a way to make a statement about the way that these literary prizes work,” she told CNN. “They don’t always support writers, but rather use them to drum up some excitement. I don’t think writing is a competitive sport.”
- As part of her award, Serpell has a chance to spend a month as a writer-in-residence at Georgetown University’s Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice.
Serpell’s story beat Nigerian writer and former Caine prize winner Segun Afolabi’s The Folded Leaf, Nigerian Elnathan John’s Flying, and two South African stories: FT Kola’s A Party for the Colonel and Masande Ntshanga’s Space to win the coveted prize.