When the management of Emerging Markets Telecommunication Services Limited (EMTS) assured of fulfilling its obligations to 2018 finalists of the 9mobile Prize for Literature, many had wondered how soon it was going to be.
The shortlist of three books was released back in January 2018, and the winner expected to be revealed around March of that year, which made critical stakeholders to reach out to prize adjudicators on its status.
Organisers, last year, had stated: “We are just concluding the process of 9mobile ownership change hence the delay in the announcement of the 2018 winner. We are hopeful that we will confirm a date for the announcement before the end of the third quarter.While reiterating the company’s commitment to the prize, in a statement issued in Lagos on Thursday, July 25, 2019, Layi Onafowokan, acting Director, Marketing, 9mobile, said winner from the 2018 edition shortlist would be announced soon.
The wait, however, ended on Thursday, August 8, 2019.
The Nigerian writer, Ayobami Adebayo, during an event held at the 9mobile headquarters in Banana Island, Lagos, was unveiled winner of the 2018 edition of the Prize, the most prestigious literature prize for first time fiction writers of African origin.When the prize was launched, organisers had lofty ambitions: “The prize aims to serve as a platform for the discovery of new creative talent out of the continent and invariably promote the burgeoning publishing industry in Africa.
“By recognising and celebrating writers and other members of the literary community across Africa, we plan to bring some much needed awareness and acclaim to the art of Fiction writing while also applauding and rewarding the efforts of those who have ventured into this genre in recent times,” the company had noted.
By comparison, the Caine Prize for African Writing, awarded for a short story, is worth £10,000. The Nigeria Prize for Literature, which rotates among four genres (fiction, poetry, drama and children’s literature), is worth $100,000 (about £78,600), but is only open to Nigerian citizens. Her novel, Stay with Me, beat Lesley Nneka Arimah, another Nigerian’s What it Means When a Man Falls Down from the Sky and Asylum by Marcus Low from South Africa.
Her announcement followed the unanimous selection of her book by the judging panel for the 2018 9mobile Prize for Literature chaired by Nigerian academic Professor Harry Garuba and supported by Siphiwo Mahala and Doreen Baingana. Ayobami received a prize of £15,000 and a Montblanc Meisterstück pen among several other rewards.
In addition to the prize money, other rewards for Adebayo include a 9mobile-sponsored fellowship at the University of East Anglia where Professor Giles Foden, author of The Last King of Scotland, will mentor her. Acting Managing Director, 9mobile, Stephane Beuvelet, congratulated the winner and the runners-up, and restated the company’s commitment to continuously support Nigerians and other Africans with the best platforms to express their passion and creativity.
Beuvelet, who was represented by the Executive Director, Regulatory and Corporate Affairs, 9mobile, Abdulrahman Ado, also assured of the company’s commitment to the prize, stating, “we will continue our sponsorship of the prize. It will continue; I assure you it’s not sunset.”
Speaking, Ayobami expressed shock at emerging the winner of the coveted prize and commended the runners-up. “It’s unexpected. I’m surprised not just in terms of winning the prize itself because it was a very strong shortlist. The other books were very amazing. Leslie Arimah’s collection of short stories, I think, is one of the best books that were published that year. Marcus Low’s Asylum is also really brilliant. So, it’s surprising to win the prize. I’m shocked,” she said.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1988 and raised in Ilesa and Ile-Ife, Osun State, Ayobami has written for the BBC, LitHub, The Guardian (UK), and has worked as an editor for Saraba magazine since 2009.
Since it was released, the 260-page novel has received critical acclaim from different writers around the world. In her review for the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani described Stay with Me as being “at once, a gothic parable about pride and betrayal; a thoroughly contemporary—and deeply moving—portrait of a marriage; and a novel, in the lineage of great works by Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.”
According to Sarah Jessica Parker, “Stay with Me is a wise and deeply humane debut novel that unpeels the layers of politics in a marriage from the inside.” Also writing, Emma Roberts, Refinery29, said, it is “an absolute must-read and a story that will be shared for many decades to come.”
While Lihle Z. Mtshali, Essence.com, described it as a “beautiful… Phenomenal… A layered story of love, sacrifice and hope…”For Rotimi Babatunde, winner 2012 Caine Prize for African Writing, “Stay with Me is that rarest of accomplishments – a richly imagined novel that boasts not only great literary sophistication but also a narrative drive so compelling that one finds it difficult to put down the book.”
Stay With Me, set between 1985 and 2008 in Nigeria, explores a contemporary marriage in a Yoruba community stubbornly tied to tradition. It revolves around a childless couple – Akin and Yejide. They are young, educated Nigerians with modern sensibilities about work, marriage and children. Everything appears perfect, until Akin’s mother and aunts begin pressuring them to have children, something they have been unable to do despite years of trying.
Despite suspicious in-laws, scheming second wives, and secretive spouses, Yejide and Akin try to break from their obstinate middle-class neighbors’ outdated views on matrimony.
Akin, an accountant and the eldest son in an influential family, initially rejects the notion of polygamy; Yejide takes pride in her successful beauty salon and her forward-thinking views on life and motherhood. Yejide’s inability to get pregnant, however, tests the couple’s values, and their future.
Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo won the inaugural prize for her novel, We Need New Names. Subsequent winners were South Africa’s Songeziwe Mahlangu for Penumbra (2015), Democratic Republic of Congo’s Fiston Mwanza Mujila for Tram 83 (2016) and Jowhor Ile of Nigeria for And After Many Days (2017).