Q&A Caine 2021: Words on the Times – Meron Hadero


AiW note: Last week we ran reviews of each of the five shortlisted stories for the AKO Caine Prize 2021 by five new AiW Guest authors, re-opening our now annual critical conversations and feedback around the writing, the work, and that of the literary prize.

In a joyful offshoot this week, and as the writer events and public conversations build to the specially curated winner announcement on the AKO Caine Prize’s YouTube channel on Monday 26th July at 5:00 P.M. BST, we are delighted and grateful to be able to offer our third Caine-related Words on the Times – an AiW Q&A subset we initiated last year as our arts and books communities entered our various #Covoids and the challenges of the pandemic. 

This Words series is not just with the shortlisted writers but others who are working with the AKO Caine Prize 2021, a year in which the workings of the prize have been wholly undertaken during pandemic conditions. For all, they expand on experiences of the prize beyond the shortlist, as well as discuss wider shifts, in other work and writing practices, and living through these, our times…


Today, we are delighted to catch up with Meron Hadero, whose shortlisted story, “The Street Sweep” (Zyzzyva magazine, 2018), was reviewed for us last week by Tiwonge Carol Katemecha, ‘Misunderstanding the Game’.

meronMeron Hadero is an Ethiopian-American who was born in Addis Ababa and came to the U.S. via Germany as a young child. She is the winner of the 2020 Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.

Another writer who is not a stranger to the prize, her story “The Wall” was shortlisted for the 2019 Caine Prize (we reviewed it here). Her work has been published in Zyzzyva, Ploughshares, Addis Ababa Noir, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, New England Review, Best American Short Stories, among others.

Her writing has also appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives, and will appear in the forthcoming anthology Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us (Algonquin Books, October 5, 2021).

In her Words on the Times for us below, she discusses writing practice and the consistency it offers in an unstable time, her forthcoming debut, and the importance of readers, writers, and ideas during the pandemic…


AKO Caine Words on the Times with Meron Hadero

AiW: Congratulations on being shortlisted for the 2021 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing. Thank you for your story.

Could you tell us a bit about “The Street Sweep” and/or how it came about, perhaps something that our readers might need to, or might not yet know about? Were there any inspirations, pre-lives, and/or stories of the story that you can share with us? 

Meron Hadero: This story is part of my forthcoming debut short collection A Down Home Meal for These Difficult Times focusing on immigrants, refugees and those facing displacement. In these stories, I’m drawn to the idea of home, and the characters face the loss of it, or they’re trying to find it, or seek it out, dream of it, fight for it, abandon it, are abandoned by it. 

This story can be seen in the context of the collection with Getu on the precipice of losing his family home. That threat drives the narrative, and sees Getu trying to take control of his fate and set out on what he’s told is an impossible mission.

Are there any particular challenges, joys, or experiences specific to this particular story being shortlisted for this Prize, in 2021, that you would like to tell us about? 

I’m delighted to be shortlisted, and I only hope to meet my fellow shortlistees in person someday.

AiW’s Words on the Times Q&A was initiated at the beginning of the pandemic, when our communities entered the various #COVOIDs for books and literary production; as it continues, it is still inspired by the spirit of connection in our varied experiences of working, making and living as we share in the challenges of these times. 

Do you find yourself working in new ways, and/or writing through new modes, forms, or genres that you weren’t before the pandemic?

This is a really interesting question. In fact, the consistency of writing for me has been a wonderful steadying force in an unpredictable time. I’m working on stories that will be part of my forthcoming book, and I’ve been editing them for some time now so I get to go back to characters, themes, plots that have been with me for a while. 

What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time? What has inspired you to write and keep writing? In what ways have writing and books communities supported you?

It’s been wonderful that writing allows me a way to stay connected (to readers, writers, ideas) even during the pandemic. In this time, I’ve developed a deeper, greater appreciation for the role writing plays in my life.

How can our AiW and wider blog communities best support you and your writing/work practice?

What a lovely question. In itself, this is a demonstration of your support, and that means so much. Thank you!


Watch this space for more Caine-related Words on the Times from Iryn Tushabe to come this week…

  • Our first Words, offered by novelist, Director of the African Writers Trust and chair of the AKO Caine Prize judges, Goretti Kyomuhendo are here;
  • Doreen Baingana, writer, publisher and co-founder/director of the Mawazo Writing Institute, shortlisted this year with her story “Lucky”, offered us her Words yesterday.  

caineAnd catch up with the stories and our reviews in the run up to the winner announcement on the 26th. Every day last week — part of our longer engagement with the Caine Prize and prize cultures around African literature — we published our AiW Guest reviews of the five 2021 shortlisted stories in turn.

Read the stories in full at the AKO Caine Prize website and our reviews as follows:

These reviews are part of our extended conversations over the years about prizing African literatures and the Caine Prize’s contributions to (or detraction from) discourses and critical appraisals of the cultures it promotes. You can dig back into our previous years’ shortlist reviews, interviews with the writers, and other coverage of the Prize from AiW here as well as our discussions of the Anthologies.


Don’t miss the finalists in the remaining shortlisted writer event ahead of the winner announcement – they will be in conversation at SOAS’ Centre of African Studies on Thursday 22nd July –


And for more fascinating interview info with the shortlisted authors, see their chats with OkayAfrica here:

Categories: Words on the Times

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