By Abdi Ali
Published March 30, 2016
A Congolese poet and novelist has won a pan-African prize that celebrates debut fiction books by African authors.
Fiston Mwanza Mujila of Congo-Kinshasa, the first Francophone writer to win the Nigeria-based Etisalat Prize for Literature, won with his first novel titled Tram 83.
The £15000-prize also comes with an engraved Montblanc Meisterstück, an Iphone 6S and a £13000 Etisalat Fellowship under the mentorship of Professor Giles Foden at the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom.
Born in Lubumbashi in Congo-Kinshasa in 1981, Mwanza Mujila studied Literature and Human Sciences at Lubumbashi University. He now lives in Graz, Austria and is pursuing doctoral studies in Romance Languages. He has won many accolades for his writing, including the Gold Medal at the 6th Jeux de la
Francophone in Beirut as well as the Best Text for Theater (State Theater, Mainz) in 2010. His writings are a response to the socio-political turbulence of post-independence Congo.
Tram 83 is the first from Congo-Kinshasa to be translated into English in more than two decades. It centres around an idealistic writer sucked into the dystopian world of his friend, a gangster who reigns supreme in the outrageous, extravagant and glamorously debauched nightlife of a secessionist City-State. The Tram 83 of the title is a nightclub that forms the heart of the crumbling city, in which Requiem and a cast of colourful characters feast.
Tram 83 is translated into English by Roland Glasser and published by Deep Vellum.
The judging panel for the 2015 Etisalat Prize for Literature was chaired by Ato Quayson, Professor of English and inaugural Director of the Centre for Diaspora Studies at the University of Toronto. The panel also comprised writer and editor, Molara Wood; and Zukiswa Wanner, author of Men of the South and London Cape Town Joburg.
At the award ceremony in Lagos on March 19, 2016, the Chief Executive Officer of Etisalat Nigeria, Matthew Willsher, said, “We are delighted again to celebrate the richness and strength of African literature. Etisalat Prize for Literature bears out this year’s theme, ‘Representing the Diversity of African Voices’. Diversity is somehow wonderful in its own right, but its importance is not for its intangible beauty, it is that diversity is a huge source of innovation. Africa’s diversity is increasingly recognised as it brings new approaches to world literature while innovation is very important in the literary world.”
“In line with its vision of promoting up-and-coming writers,” says a Press Statement says, “Etisalat will sponsor a book tour to three African cities. The Etisalat Prize also aims to promote the publishing industry at large and will therefore purchase 1000 copies of shortlisted books for donation to schools, book clubs and libraries across Africa.”