Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 30, May 2002 


Ama wins Commonwealth Writers Best First Book Prize 

The historical novel by South African-born Manu Herbstein, Ama: A Story of the Atlantic Slave Trade, (e-reads, USA) has won the Commonwealth Best First Book Prize 2002. In a dramatic break with tradition, a title that was first published as an e-book and print-on-demand edition, before being published as a paperback, wins a major literary award.

Ama is the historical-fictional story of a girl's and, later, woman's life through the horrors of slavery, and her growth and battles towards the attainment of self liberty. Chairperson for the pan-Commonwealth judging panel, Right Reverend Bishop Holloway, author and former Bishop of Edinburgh, said of Manu Herbstein's £3,000 award success:

We surprised ourselves by our choice of Best First Book. After a long and intricate discussion, we chose a historical epic. It's a book written with tremendous moral passion about a monstrous episode in human history.

The high point of the ceremony, held in Edinburgh, Scotland on April 24, 2002, however goes to the Australian novelist, Richard Flanagan, whose novel Gould's Book of Fish (Picador, Australia; Atlantic Books, UK) won the main £10,000 Best Book Prize 2002. Right Reverend Bishop Holloway sums up Flanagan's book thus:

By a majority, we chose the most controversially difficult and demanding of the four books that were before us, because we detected in it a touch of genius that, we believe, will give it enduring significance. It is an impossible book to describe or summarise. Some of the judges used adjectives like Dantean, Joycean, even grotesque. To mix some of the metaphors we coined to capture its quality: 'this is a baggy monster of a book that does literary cartwheels on a tightrope.' I am sure you get the picture.

The judges for the 2002 panel were: Professor Margery Fee (Canada), Dr Walter Perera (Sri Lanka), Ms Meira Chand (Singapore), Professor Penina Mlama (Tanzania), Professor Vinesh Hookoomsing (Mauritius), Dr Augustine Mensah (Ghana), Dr Michael Bucknor (Jamaica), Ms Judy Raymond (Trinidad & Tobago), Ms Namita Gokhale (India), Ms Judith Palmer (United Kingdom), Professor Bruce Bennett (Australia), Professor Subramani (Fiji Islands).

BPN  [end]  [BPN, no 30, 2002, p 12.]

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