Genre versus Prize: The Short Story Form and African Oral Traditions
In “The Short Story in Africa,” Nadine Gordimer writes that the genre is more malleable and open to experimentation with style, language and form than the novel, which means that it is more easily accommodated within a variety of media spaces. Gordimer adds that the short story is “a fragmented and restless form, a matter of hit or miss, and it is perhaps for this reason that it suits modern consciousness” (170–71). Taking its cue from Gordimer’s remarks, this article attempts to examine the genre of the short story through the lens of the literary prize industry in Africa. In most parts of the continent the development of the short story, like that of the novel and other genres, has been slow, facing a number of challenges such as a historically impoverished publishing industry. The rise in popularity of the local and global literary prize for the short story has however played a significant role in the promotion of the genre and literature generally on the continent. The article examines the short story’s increased presence in the digital space and interrogates the general assumption on the part of many of the prize-awarding bodies that the short story can be linked to African oral traditions. The aim of the article is to explore the relationship between the genre and the rising popularity of the literary prize on the continent, focusing on the various ways in which the prize is (re)shaping the contemporary African short story.
Keywords: Orality, literary prize, publishing, exoticism, literary fracture, disconnectivity