Nigerian Author Chigozie Obioma Wins Top German Literary Award

Chigozie Obioma
Chigozie Obioma
Chigozie Obioma with his second book An Orchestra Of Minorities

There is a popular quote that if you stick around the barbershop long enough you will get a haircut. Nigerian author, Chigozie Obioma’s first book ‘The Fisherman’ was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize in 2015. His second book ‘An Orchestra of Minorities’ was also a shortlist for the prize in 2019. However, on both occasions, he did not clinch the prize.

Although his second book missed the Booker Prize, its translation has won the 2020 Internationaler Literaturpreis Award (International Literature Award). The award helps to echo the voices of previously less known writers in Germany. Chigozie Obioma is the third African to win the prestigious award.

The other two Africans are Fiston Mwanza Mujila (2017) for the novel Tram 83 (translation by Katharina Meyer and Lena Müller) and Teju Cole (2013) for the novel Open City (translation by Christine Richter-Nilsson). Acknowledging the award through an Instagram post Chigozie Obioma said,

“While I’m grateful, I owe this win to my wonderful translator, Nicholai von Schweder, a remarkable man and the very best. Also, my wonderful publisher @piperverlag. They show that an enthusiastic publisher can make a big difference in a writer’s life.”

Judges show of solidarity

The Haus der Kulturen der Welt and Stiftung Elementarteilchen have been offering the Internationaler Literaturpreis Award since 2009. The award honors an outstanding work of contemporary international literature and its first German translation. In the past, the winning novel and translation are honored with a lavish celebration. All the other authors and translators on the shortlist get an invite to that celebration.

However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Haus der Welt der Kulturen (HKW) and the seven-member jury honored all six shortlisted books. Therefore, rather than having 2 winners, we have 12. Thus, the €36,000 (approx. $40,500) prize money will be split among the winners. Since it was difficult to celebrate together, the announcement was through a public broadcaster, Deutschlandradio Kultur.

Previously, the author would get €20,000 (approx. $22,500) while the translator will get €15,000 (approx. $16,900). The new award mode has the benefit of having books from four different continents; Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. According to the jury,

“They show us the world as a great space of opportunity. They testify to the great diversity of voices in the world.”

About Chigozie Obioma’s ‘An Orchestra of Minorities’

‘An Orchestra of Minorities’ by Chigozie Obioma follows the story of Chinonso, a poultry farmer. The quest for an academic degree in Northern Cyprus pushes him to sell his farm. Chinonso believes that without significant material advancement he will not be able to marry his heartthrob. Daniel Medin, one of the jury members describes the book as a philosophical novel “of rare ambition and breadth that questions the freedom of the human will with relentless precision”.

The full list of winners are as follows:

  • Yevgenia Belorusets: Glückliche Fälle, translated from Russian by Claudia Dathe, Matthes & Seitz Publishing, 2019.
  • Angel Igov: Die Sanftmütigen, translated from the Bulgarian by Andreas Tretner, eta Publishing, 2019.
  • Chigozie Obioma: Das Weinen der Vögel(An Orchestra of Minorities), translated from the English by Nicolai von Schweder-Schreiner, Piper Publishing, 2019.
  • Amir Hassan Cheheltan: Der Zirkel der Literaturliebhaber, translated from the Persian by Julia Himmelreich, C.H.Beck Publishing, 2020.
  • James Noël: Was für ein Wunder, translated from the French by Rike Bolte, Litradukt Publishing, 2020.
  • Isabel Waidner: Geile Deko(Gaudy Bauble), translated from the English by Ann Cotten, Merve Publishing, 2019.

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