Thursday, November 01, 2012

Chika Unigwe's novel On Black Sister's Street wins the NLNG Prize

The Nigerian Liquified Gas Limited (NLNG) Prize has just announced that Chika Unigwe's novel On Black Sisters Street: A Novel (Modern African Writing Series)
 has just won the $100,000 literary prize.

Premium Times writes: 
Chika Unigwe,  a Nigerian writer based in Belgium, has won the NLNG  sponsored Nigerian prize for Literature, 2012.
Ms. Unigwe was announced winner of the literary award on Thursday 1 November at a world press conference held at the Ocean View Restaurant in Victoria Island, Lagos.
Chika won for her novel, On Black Sisters Street.
“What is striking about Chika Unigwe’s novel is the compassion that informs it,” Abiola Irele, chairman of Judges for the prize said.
Chika Unigwe was born in Enugu, Nigeria, and now lives in Turnhout, Belgium, with her husband and four children.
She is the first foreign based Nigerian writer to win the NLNG prize which was hitherto reserved for locally based Nigerian writers.
I have not yet read the novel but just ordered two copies on Amazon (one for me, one as a gift!). The novel describes the lives of  four African women who are lured to Belgium in hopes of a better life but end up working as sex workers in Antwerp. 

Unigwe did more than just library research on the lives of sex workers. In this interview with Black Voices, she describes the "participant observation" ethnography she did to be able to understand the lives of these women:
BV: You were so curious about the lifestyle that you bought clothes and thigh-high boots and spent two years among women in the red-light district. What was that like? Would you do it again and would you recommend it for others? 
CU: I spent two years researching and writing the novel. I went to the women because I had no idea about their lives as prostitutes, and because I wanted to know what it felt like to walk those cobbled streets of the red-light district. I wanted to feel what it was like as a woman to be on that street, and to be looked at as a possible worker. It was only by doing that that I could somehow, in a very small way, inhabit the skin of my characters and write them truthfully. It was awkward at the beginning. Would I recommend it to others? I think as long as one is comfortable doing it, that sort of research helps more than any literature.
On Black Sister's Street beat out two other novels on the short list: Olusola Olugbesa's Only A Canvas, which unfortunately, no one I know knows how to get a hold of, and Ngozi Achebe's Onaedo - The Blacksmith's Daughter

An NLNG press release on the short list (I have not yet seen a press release about the winning novel) describes the jury who made the choice:
The chairman of the panel of judges is Prof. Francis Abiola Irele, Provost of the College of Humanities at the Kwara State University and Fellow of the Dubois Institute, Harvard University.  Other members of the panel are Prof. Angela Miri, Head of the English Department at the University of Jos, Prof. Sophia Ogwude, Dean of the Faculty of Arts at University of Abuja, Prof J O J Nwachukwu-Agbada, Professor of African Literature in the Department of English, Abia State University and Dr. Oyeniyi Okunoye, a Senior Lecturer at the Department of English, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife and a Section Editor of Postcolonial Text, a journal affiliated to the Association for Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies. 
Other members of the Advisory Board, besides Professor Emeritus Ayo Banjo, are Dr. Jerry Agada, former President of Association of Nigerian Authors and Prof. Ben Elugbe, President, Nigeria Academy of Letters.

To learn more about Chika Unigwe, who writes in both English and Dutch, check out her website. She is the author of six other novels, and many other works of short fiction. You can also read her first reactions to the prize in several lovely interviews: Elnathan John interviews her for Daily Times. Abubakar Adam Ibrahim interviews her for Weekly Trust. And Uche Umez interviews her on her favourite books for his blog.

You can purchase On Black Sister's Street on Amazon here: 

A Kindle version of the book is also available here: 

Amazon also sells two other titles that include her short fiction:


If you are interested in the nine other books longlisted for the NLNG, I've copied a list (quoted from an NLNG press release) below, as well as links to those available on Amazon. I hope the longlisting will help give publicity to those books published in Nigeria and which are yet not available online. Maybe a publisher who has access to Kindle will buy the rights?
The list, in alphabetical order of the authors' surnames, is as follows:
1. Ngozi Achebe Onaedo: The Blacksmith's Daughter
2. Ifeanyi Ajaegbo Sarah House
3. Jude Dibia Blackbird
4. Vincent Egbuson Zhero
5. Adaobi Tricia Nwuban I Do Not Come to You by Chance
6. Onuora Nzekwu Troubled Dust
7. Olusola Olugbesan Only a Canvas
8. Lola Shoneyin The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives
9. E E Sule Sterile Sky
10. Chika Unigwe On Black Sister's Street
Ngozi Achebe's Onaedo--The Blacksmith's Daughter. I have just started reading this, and it looks like the sort of historical fiction I devoured as a high schooler. I'm looking forward to reading more!

Ifeanyi Ajaegbo's Sarah House is available on Kindle, but I was not able to access a link to the cover. Ajaegbo was the winner of the 2005 African Region Prize for the Commonwealth short story competition.

I haven't yet read Jude Dibia's Blackbird, but it is currently sitting on my bookshelf, as one of my to-read books. I have, however, read his striking Walking With Shadows , one of the first Nigerian novels I've read that deals with LGBT issues (though there were a few that preceded it, notably Al-khamees Bature's Hausa novel Matsayin Lover that has a few lesbian charachters, and a story in Labo Yari's collection A House in the Dark (Heart to heart) "Cavalier of the Plain," which very obliquely presents several lesbian charachters. Lola Shoneyin's novel, The Secret Lives of the Four Wives: A Novel
 also longlisted for the NLNG prize this year also presents a charachter with same sex desires.

Vincent Egbuson's Zhero  is listed at Goodreads here. I found it for sale on, but I can't vouch for the reliability of the vendor.

Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani's I Do Not Come to You by Chance actually beat out Chika Unigwe's On Black Sister's Street in 2010 to win one of the Commonwealth Prize, Africa region prizes in 2010. I Do Not Come to You by Chance is a hilarious, though thought-provoking, novel that takes you behind the scenes of Nigeria's famous 419 scams. I highly recommend!

I couldn't find Onuora Nzekwu's Troubled Dust for sale online, but it was also listed on Goodreads. Tribune has an article about the launch of Troubled Dust, and you can read an interview with the author on Bivnze's Space.

Likewise, I could only find Olusola Olugbesan's shortlisted novel Only a Canvas, on Goodreads. His facebook page, however, describes where you can find the novel:
The book is one of the 15 nominees for The Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa 2012 & one of the LAST 3 FINALISTS of the NLNG PRIZE FOR NIGERIAN LITERATURE 2012. Book Available @ MOSURO PUBLISHERS. 5 Oluware Obasa Street, Bodija,PO BOX 30201, Ibadan,Nigeria. Tel: 0803-322-9113. E-mail:

Without having read any of the shortlisted novels, I think Lola Shoneyin's stunning novel The Secret Lives of Baba Segi's Wives deserved to make the short list. I just read this novel last week, and I had to sit down and just think for about two hours after I finished reading. It alternates first and third person narrative to tell the intertwined stories of a polygamous household. It's one of the best novels I've read this year.

In 2008, I had the privilege to read an early draft of E.E. Sule's novel Sterile Sky, a coming of age tell of a young boy growing up in Kano amidst ethnic and religious crisis. I just got a copy two weeks ago and am looking forward to re-reading it and seeing how Sule developed and polished it before it was published in the new African Writer's series.