Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 28, November 2001 


15th Commonwealth Writers Prize 2001 held in Ghana

Akunu Dake
Akunu Dake is Chief Executive Officer of Heritage Development, PO Box CT 1780, Cantonments, Accra, Ghana, +233 21 760441(tel), +233 21 760441 (fax), email:

"This masterful book is a sort of literary ventriloquist act as Carey re-imagines the voice and life of Australian villainous folk hero, Ned Kelly. It is a book that bursts with creative energy. Its seamless telling of a tragic tale of poverty and injustice is tempered by a buoyancy and wicked turn of phrase that completely overwhelms the reader. Kelly's story resonates through Australian history into the present. It is the ultimate Australian story, a search for roots for a nation's character."

Those are the words of the Chairperson, pan-Commonwealth judging panel 2001, distinguished poet, novelist and essayist Professor Kofi Awoonor, in describing Peter Carey's novel, True History of the Kelly Gang. The Australian author was the winner of the 15th edition of the Commonwealth Writers Prize hosted for the first time by Accra, Ghana in April this year.

Instituted in 1987 by the Commonwealth Foundation, the Prize is the only international literary prize with a two-tier judging process. For the purpose of the selection, the Commonwealth is divided into four regions _ Africa, Caribbean and Canada, Eurasia, and South East Asia and South Pacific - each of which selects its own Best Book winner and Best First Book winner. These eight regional winners then compete for the overall Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book and Best First Book.

The Commonwealth Writers Prize is a tribute to Commonwealth writing and its significant contribution to contemporary literature in English. The prize is also designed to encourage and reward the upsurge of new fiction in English and ensure that works of merit reach a wide audience outside their country of origin. The Prize is administered by the Book Trust of London on behalf of the Commonwealth Foundation.

British writer Zadie Smith was awarded the Best First Book prize for her novel White Teeth. The novel was commended by Professor Awoonor as,

'... an astonishingly attractive debut novel; a most fetching examination of the interlocking lives of immigrant families - Caribbean, South Asian, and Jewish - in North London. Drawing on three people's experiences of uprooting and settling, as well as their colonialist pasts, the novel is a wonderfully expansive, inventive, exuberant, comic celebration of multicultural life, growing up, survival in the English capital'.

Zadie Smith donated her 3,000 prize money to a school in Accra. Alhaji Aliu Mahama, Vice President of the Republic of Ghana, presented the prizes at the Prize gala awards dinner held at the Banquet Hall of the State House in Accra.

The novels were judged by a Pan-Commonwealth Judging Panel. Other members that worked with Professor Kofi Awoonor (Ghana) were Professor Penina Mlama (Tanzania), Mr Kevin Baldeosingh (Trinidad and Tobago), Professor Valentine Cunningham (United Kingdom) and Ms Meira Chand (Singapore).

The nominees for the 2001 Best Book category were:

Zakes Mda (South Africa) The Heart of Redness (Oxford University Press, South Africa)

Caribbean and Canada
Anita Rau Badami (Canada) The Hero's Walk (Alfred A. Knopf, Canada)

J. G. Ballard (United Kingdom) Super-Cannes (Flamingo, HarperCollins, United Kingdom)

South East Asia and South Pacific
Peter Carey (Australia) True History of the Kelly Gang (University of Queensland Press, Australia)

The nominees for the Best First Book Prize:

K. Sello Duiker (South Africa) Thirteen Cents (David Philip Publishers, South Africa)

Caribbean and Canada
Pearl Luke (Canada) Burning Ground (Flamingo, HarperCollins, Canada)

Zadie Smith (United Kingdom) White Teeth (Hamish Hamilton, United Kingdom)

South East Asia and South Pacific
Arabella Edge (Australia) The Company (Picador, Australia)

The 2002 Prize will be held in Edinburgh, Scotland. [end]  [BPN, no 28, 2001, p 7.]

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