The 2017 Caine Prize for African Writing has been presented to Sudanese author Bushra al-Fadil. As one of the most prestigious literary awards to focus on works by African writers, the Caine is expected to raise the reputation of every author who receives it. Al-Fadil won the prize for a short story called “The Story of the Girl Whose Birds Flew Away.” Originally written in 1979, the story was recently translated into English from Arabic,and it was published in a collection called The Book of Khartoum – A City in Short Fiction. Al-Fadil and translator Max Shmookler will share in the award’s prize money. The story highlights the atmosphere of sexual harassment and violence that are an everyday part of the lives of women in the Sudan.
Al-Fadil was born in Northern Sudan in 1952. His family moved to the central portion of the country soon after, and al-Fadil began to thrive in school. Eventually, he would study the Russian language and Russian literature at a Russian university. He earned a PhD in Russian language before returning to Sudan where he worked in the Russian Language Department at Khartoum University. Al-Fadil was an integral part of the faculty until the early 1990s and the military coup by Omar al-Bashir. Like many of his colleagues, al-Fadil participated in protests against the coup, which caused him to be expelled from his home country.
The writer now makes his home in Saudi Arabia where he continues to publish short stories, poetry, and novels. However, he has not forgotten the country of his birth. At the awards ceremony, he noted that: “This is important for me as I think countries in Africa — particularly my own country of Sudan, need to do more to promote culture, literature and the arts.” Promotion of the arts has been the goal of the Caine Prize for African Writing since its inception in 2000. Since then, nearly 20 recipients have been named, representing many different African nations. The prize was awarded to Lidudumalingani of South Africa in 2016 and to Namwali Serpell of Zambia in 2015. This year’s competition included 148 entries representing more than 20 African countries. As the prestige of the award continues to grow, it seems likely that successive contests will have even more entries.
The Caine Prize is named for the late Sir Michael Caine, who was chairman of the Booker Prize committee for more than two decades. His friends and family continue to honor his work each year by awarding the prize to a deserving author.