Zimbabwean wins top writing prize for tale of starving children

Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo who hails from New Lobengula in Bulawayo, has scooped this year’s Caine Prize for African Writing.

She works as a lecturer at Cornell University in New York and said one day she hopes to become a full time writer. Her short story called Hitting Budapest follows a group of six starving Zimbabwean children, one of whom is pregnant at age 10, as they go about fending for themselves.

The children from a shanty town decide to raid a well off neighbourhood for guavas. They encounter a rich woman and insult her for throwing away a piece of pizza, a food they discover for the first time in their lives. On their way back home they come across the body of someone who has committed suicide.

Asked if her story is related to the current situation in Zimbabwe, she said it was linked through the issue of poverty. “The real issue is that a lot of people are living below the poverty line and children, being society’s most vulnerable victims, are suffering the brunt of it,” she said. The story also draws heavily from her own experiences of growing up in Zimbabwe.

Bulawayo was chosen from 126 submissions by a jury consisting of this year’s Commonwealth Writers’ Prize winner Aminatta Forna and the Man Booker Prize shortlisted Libyan author Hisham Matar, among others.

Handing over the prize, Matar explained why Bulawayo was chosen over four other shortlisted writers:

“The language of Hitting Budapest crackles,” he said. “Here we encounter Darling, Bastard, Chipo, Godknows, Stina and Sbho, a gang reminiscent of ‘Clockwork Orange.’ But these are children, poor and violated and hungry. This is a story with moral power and weight (yet) has the artistry to refrain from moral commentary.”

As Caine Prize winner NoViolet receives £10,000 cash and will be given the opportunity to take up a month’s residence at Georgetown University, Washington DC, as a writer-in-residence. The award will cover all travel and living expenses.

The Caine Prize has become a near-infallible early warning system for new African talent. Often, just being shortlisted is enough to catapult African authors to international renown, as has been evidenced by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie.

Previous winners such as Leila Aboulela, Helon Habila and Kenyan Binyavanga Wainaina have gone on to publish critically acclaimed works, as well as further the cause of writing in their respective countries.

Read Hitting Budapest

Buy the book: ‘To See the Mountain and other stories’ features all five stories shortlisted in 2011.

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