Q&As: Hannah Giorgis – AKO Caine Prize shortlist 2022

Last week, as part of our annual AKO Caine Prize coverage, we ran Guest reviews of the 5 stories shortlisted for the award. This week, and leading up to the winner announcement on Monday 18 July, we are very pleased to be sharing a new set of AKO Caine Q&As – with each of the authors on the shortlist and with the publishers of their stories, as well as judges of all the stories entered into the Prize this year, so opening up our conversations around the Prize to other roles and participants.

Today, we are delighted to speak with Hannah Giorgis (Ethiopia), shortlisted with her story “A Double-Edged Inheritance” (in Addis Ababa Noir, Akashic Books / Cassava Republic Press, 2020), as she answers the first of our AKO Caine Prize shortlisted author Q&As.

NB: shout out and with a thankful nod to the newly appointed Director of the Prize this year, Sarah Ozo-Irabor and her award-winning Instagram page and podcast Books & Rhymes, for our music-based, theme tune question…

AiW: Congratulations on being shortlisted for the 2022 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing, Hannah. Thank you for your story and for talking with us today.

~ Could you tell us a bit about the pre-lives of  “A Double-Edged Inheritance” and/or how it came about? Any stories of your story that you can share – perhaps something that our readers might not yet know about (or that they should or need to know)?

Hannah Giorgis: The first detail of what would later become “A Double-Edged Inheritance” that presented itself to me was a small one: I knew I’d want to write something one day in which a woman roughly my grandmother’s age related to someone younger than her—a relative, but maybe not—in part through literature. 

It was an errant thought, the kind of thing I’d normally forget to jot down and perhaps never end up coming back to. I’m glad it came up again as I sat down to write. 

~ Would you do anything differently if writing under a pseudonym?

I can’t imagine that bit being all that different if I’d written under a pseudonym, but I do know I’d likely have included quite a bit more (forbidden? unrestrained?) romance if I had. 

~ Could you tell us a bit about your (other) work — your writing and/or other kinds of work, roles, or more general and different sorts of professional hats you wear? (If anything here has particular relevance to your shortlisted story, could you share that with our readers?)

My full-time job is also writing—I’m a staff writer at The Atlantic, where I’ve worked for a little over 4 years now. In my work at The Atlantic, I write primarily reported features and criticism. I’ve never written fiction for the magazine, though I very much enjoy writing about it. 

When I wrote “A Double-Edged Inheritance”, I was working at BuzzFeed News, where I’d gotten to stretch my writing creativity in ways I hadn’t really imagined before having a full-time job in media. I didn’t write fiction there either, but I did get to be imaginative and have fun with my colleagues, especially colleagues of color. 

That was a foundational experience to have had in my early/mid-20s, and I’m grateful for the colleagues who were generous with their time and insights on subjects like conflict reporting. It made me a more thoughtful writer, and I hope that shows up in my fiction too.

~ What is the best investment you’ve made in your creative self?

It’s made a world of difference for me to have a dedicated office space in my apartment, a change made obvious by the onset of the pandemic. My space in general is very important to me, which I know I sometimes use as an excuse to procrastinate by cleaning incessantly instead of writing. (What can I say? I’m my mother’s daughter—I love a tidy room!) 

~ What is your writer/creator theme tune (i.e. the track that would play behind the montage section in the film of your working life, that captures your spirit when making, thinking, producing…)?

I can do admin-type work with non-instrumental music playing; sometimes hearing dancehall, reggae, afrobeats, and soca really energizes me when I’ve got tedious tasks to finish. 

But if I’m writing, especially fiction, I tend to be drawn toward quieter, more ambient sounds. I love the Ethiopiques jazz series, especially the piano solos of the formidable Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou.

~ Tell us a bit about your bookshelves – how they are arranged vs. how you would like them to be arranged.

I have two bookshelves—one in my living area and one in my office. They’re arranged very loosely. A friend once pointed to one part of the living room bookshelf and asked dryly, “Is this the Africa shelf?” after seeing Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, Behold the Dreamers, The Old Drift, and many more all stacked closely together. That’s about as close as I get to any system though—as much as I enjoy seeing it in others’ spaces, I don’t alphabetize or color-coordinate my books. 

I love letting other people borrow mine, which would make systems like that unsustainable. (I’ve learned, after years of things going missing, though, that it doesn’t hurt to keep track of who has what.) I want my bookcases, especially the living room one, to feel inviting. I hope that having several titles directly facing outwards, along with flowers and small pieces of art, helps create that vibe (currently on display: Addis Ababa Noir, of course, Black Women As/And the Living Archive, We Do This Til’ We Free Us, and The Motherlode.)

~ What is the most serendipitous book-related thing that has happened to you? Perhaps a happy, weird accident that has occurred around books that you can share with us?

One of the treats of living in New York is that I’ve had many serendipitous experiences here over the years. So many conversations with strangers—the kind that make your day, remind you why it’s so beautiful to be in proximity to others—have started either because someone’s spotted a book I’m reading or vice versa. 

~ Finally, as a writer, reader, and/or otherwise in your working life, what are the most ethical and/or heart-lifting practices you’ve seen happening recently in your industry, perhaps particularly given our experiences over the last few/couple of years?

I’ve been tremendously lucky to have writer friends who support and challenge me—on a micro level, that’s been incredibly heartening, especially in moments when I’m feeling jaded or otherwise unenthused about the industry more broadly. 

But on a wider level, I’m cautiously optimistic about some of the more big-picture changes that several intrepid people across publishing and media are pushing through to help make our industries more equitable—for writers and for readers. 

I’m hopeful that between those efforts, and the informal (and formal) support networks that crop up among writers, we’ll continue to see slow but noticeable shifts in the literary landscape.

Note: Hannah’s story was published in one of Brooklyn-based indie press Akashic Books’ Noir collections, as was Billie McTernan’s shortlisted story “The Labadi Sunshine Bar”, and Nana-Ama Danquah’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” (Addis Ababa and Accra, respectively, co-published in the UK by Cassava Republic Press).

We are pleased to be able to share an accompanying Q&A today with Johanna Ingalls, managing editor and director of foreign rights at Akashic Books – the first of our Publisher’s AKO Caine Prize Q&As. Johanna gives us an industry perspective, telling us a bit more about the publisher’s relationships with these three stories as AKO Caine Prize stories, Akashic’s work publishing African writing, and recent changes in the industry.

Images and text below c. of the AKO Caine Prize website…

Hannah Giorgis is a staff writer at The Atlantic. The daughter of Ethiopian immigrants, she lives in Brooklyn by way of Southern California. Her criticism and reporting have appeared in publications including the New York Times magazine, The Guardian, and Pitchfork. Hannah’s short stories have appeared in the Addis Ababa Noir anthology, the Lifted Brow literary journal, and SPOOK magazine. She was the recipient of the 2018 Yoojin Grace Wuertz Writers of Immigration and Diaspora fellowship at the Jack Jones Literary Arts retreat and the 2021 Writer-in-Residence at Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Most recently, Hannah co-wrote Ida B. The Queen: The Extraordinary Life and Legacy of Ida B. Wells, a dedication to the pioneering American journalist and advocate, with Wells’ great-granddaughter, Michelle Duster.

Hannah’s short story, “A Double-Edged Inheritance”, has been shortlisted for the 2022 AKO Caine Prize. Read “A Double-Edged Inheritance” here.

For our AiW Guest review of Hannah’s story, by Megan Brune, a second year undergraduate student in Humanities at Stellenbosch University, “The Glue that Binds”, please click through direct here.

And you can follow this link to read our other reviews of the 2022 shortlist, plus more from our AKO Caine Prize series, this year and (way) back…

The 2022 AKO Caine Prize winner will be announced on July 18th. Head to the AKO Caine Prize website – http://www.caineprize.com/ – for more, and for details of the line-up of related events and author/publisher appearances.

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