Q&As: Allwell Uwazuruike from Afritondo – Publisher, AKO Caine Prize shortlist 2022

AiW note: as part of what has become our annual AKO Caine Prize for African Writing coverage, this year we have published AiW Guest reviews of each of the 5 stories shortlisted for the 2022 award. Leading up to the winner announcement on Monday 18 July, we are also sharing a new set of Q&As – hearing from the writers on the shortlist but also from the publishers of their stories, as well as judges who have determined the shortlist this year.

These “twinned” Q&As running this week aim to make the different kinds of labour and work that is involved in the literary prize more visible, and to further open up some of the routes by which we receive that work, the work of African writing.

Today, we’re very pleased to be in conversation with Allwell Uwazuruike, co-founder of Afritondo — “an online magazine for African politics and arts, including fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and essay” — and publisher of Joshua Chizoma’s AKO Caine Prize shortlisted story, “Collector of Memories”, which appeared in the 2021 Afritondo Short Story Prize Anthology, The Hope, The Prayer, The Anthem (Afritondo).

Our accompanying Q&A today is with Joshua Chizoma.

AiW: Many thanks, Allwell, for agreeing to speak with us and open up these often less visible roles in the outcomes of a literary prize. This is the first time in all our years covering the Caine Prize that we have been able to offer the experiences of publishers and we are really grateful to be able to do so.

As its publisher, could you tell us about your journey of/with “Collector of Memories” by Joshua Chizoma, the 2022 AKO Caine Prize shortlisted story? Your story of the story, so to speak. How did it come to you? What made you “see” it, and as a Caine Prize story? Why this story, why now?

Allwell Uwazuruike: First, thanks for this opportunity. We are more than happy to share our experiences and interactions with talented writers from across Africa and beyond.

Joshua’s “Collector of Memories” was submitted for the Afritondo Short Story Prize 2021 and made it all the way to the shortlist. I will explain the various stages it takes for a story to get to the shortlist, but before I do that, I’ll like to say that, prior to submitting his story, we had asked Joshua if he wanted to be a “reader” for the 2021 edition of the prize. Basically, readers read an allotted batch of entries and recommend stories for the longlist. Joshua thought about the proposition but came back to say that he preferred to enter the prize. Of course, that decision paid off. 

Now, back to the process. First, we split the entries into seven or eight batches and assign each batch to a reader. Each reader then recommends five or so stories for inclusion on the longlist. Of course, “Collector of Memories” came highly recommended. It was one of roughly 40 stories recommended for the longlist out of nearly 400 stories. But 40 stories are too many for a longlist—for us, 25 stories too many. So we still needed to prune the list down. Three editors, working distinctly, read all the recommended entries, with each choosing a list of 15 stories for the longlist. Generally, a story selected by all three readers makes it into the longlist, and usually, this will be some 4 or 5 stories. For the 2021 Prize, “Collector of Memories” was one of those 4 or 5 stories. Each editor was convinced it belonged on the longlist. Of course, the judges agreed with us and included it on the shortlist of five stories.

How did we see it as a Caine Prize story? Firstly, we loved it. We thought it was beautifully written. Secondly, getting on the shortlist of our competition, for us, is a strong indication of a story’s quality, and we often consider those stories for the Caine Prize. Joshua’s story was one of four that we put in for the prize because we were convinced of its quality, and it has made it all the way to the 2021 shortlist.

Please tell us a bit more about your work more broadly with African writing and how things are on the ground for you now, perhaps particularly given our experiences over the last couple of years.

Our work is geared towards promoting African writing. We do this in three principal ways: publishing the works of African writers on our website, the Afritondo Short Story Prize, and book publishing.

How things are on the ground? I will touch on each of the three paths above. First, we have published the short stories, poems, and articles of hundreds of writers since we created the platform four years ago. We feel fulfilled in making our platform available to young and upcoming writers who are looking to share their work with the world. The prize has also been a success. We have received well over a thousand entries in the three years of the prize. We find this really encouraging. Some of the winners and shortlisted writers have also gone on to achieve big things. Two past winners now have book publishing deals. One shortlisted writer has made it to the Caine Prize shortlist. We are glad to be able to make an impact on the African literary scene. 

In the area of publishing, we have published two quality anthologies and are looking to publish full-length books in the next year or so. There’s a lot more we wish to do, and we hope to network with other partners to further promote African writing. Of course, the pandemic had an adverse effect both directly and indirectly. In a sense, the world is still recovering from its social and economic impact. We are trying to pick ourselves up, hopefully create new partnerships, and raise funding for future projects.

What is the most valued advice you’ve received about navigating your industry? What jobs, roles, or avenues would you like to see become more visible in publishing?

One piece of advice that I always remember is keep your eyes on the target, be patient, don’t let setbacks deter you. It’s easy to lose patience when things are a bit bumpy; however, it’s beneficial to look back and see how far you’ve come and how much clearer the goal has become.

I’d love to see young writers get more support, especially on the continent. More writing workshops, more fellowships, more literary festivals. There is a lot of work still to be done in various parts of the continent, and more hands are needed. 

What are the most ethical and/or heart-lifting practices you’ve seen happening recently in your industry?

It is really encouraging to see people dedicated to promoting and enriching the African voice. In the past couple of years, I’ve met and worked with a number of individuals who are happy to give their time and support to developing the African arts and literature. When we reach out to writers and leaders of the industry to act as judges on our prize, the overall response is positive and enthusiastic. We are blessed to be around at this moment when everyone is so willing to help get African stories and writers heard. 

How can our books and online communities best offer support for your work with African writing?

We ask that people subscribe to our online magazine on afritondo.com and explore the lovely voices there. They can also contribute to our platform and help spread the word. Our annual prizes run from September every year, and we encourage writers to keep an eye out and submit if they can. 

Also, we publish anthologies from our short story prize every year. It’d be lovely if people could buy and read them, to support our work and experience the beauty that is African writing. 

We want to say thank you to the Caine Prize. It is an honour to collaborate with such a prestigious body, and we look forward to many more collaborations in the future.

Allwell Uwazuruike is an editor and co-founder of Afritondo. He is also a university lecturer and has written extensively on human rights in Africa. He is currently working on his new book, The Dogs and the Baboons.

Afritondo is a media and publishing platform that aims to connect with and tell the stories of Africans and black minority populations across the globe.

Our main aim is to improve diversity in publishing by offering aspiring African and black minority writers a viable platform for telling their stories. We feature stories, essays, commentaries, and poems sent to us by established, budding, and aspiring writers alike. We also publish books and anthologies.

Furthermore, we encourage and promote writing by running strategic prize competitions. https://www.afritondo.com/about

About The Hope, The Prayer, The Anthem:

The Hope, The Prayer, The Anthem, is a collection of short stories on identity, love, hope, and self-discovery. Told by rising and award-winning writers from across the African continent and beyond, the stories are a rich blend of suspense, humour, drama, and romance.

REVIEW
“This anthology gives us a glimpse into the galaxies of possibility within African literature. It is complex, exciting, full of surprises, and brimming with brilliance.” MANEO MOHALE, AUTHOR, EVERYTHING IS A DEADLY FLOWER

Head to Afritondo for more on the collection (including a 1 minute intro), to purchase it there and for links to other retailers, as well as info. on their Prize and all the other riches the Afritondo platform offers.

Our author, publisher, and judge AKO Caine Prize Q&A Series began on Monday and will continue to publish through the week in the lead-up to the winner announcement.

Our accompanying Q&A today is with Joshua Chizoma – discussing “writing and craft, real-life inspirations and uplifts and the soft underbelly that is procrastination, books and (outrageous) reading, and the mix of law studies with creative and other freelance work…”

Last week, Malawian lecturer and postgraduate coordinator in the English Department at the University of Malawi Innocent Akili Ngulube reviewed Joshua Chizoma’s shortlisted story, “Collector of Memories”. His piece, “Sacks tied around our necks”, with links to read Joshua’s story in full via the AKO Caine Prize website, can be found direct here.

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

NB: Allwell’s conversation completes those in the series with the publishers of the stories on the shortlist: so far, we have spoken with publishers Rachel Zadok, of Short Story Day Africa, publisher of Kenyan writer Idza Luhumyo’s “Five Years Next Sunday”; and Johanna Ingalls, for Akashic Books, publisher of Accra Noir, which includes Nana-Ama Danquah’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” and Billie McTernan’s “The Labadi Sunshine Bar”, and Addis Ababa Noir, the collection that Hannah Giorgis’ “A Double-Edged Inheritance” appears in.

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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