Irenosen Okojie has emerged the winner of the 2020 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing for her short fiction story “Grace Jones” – an impersonator of a Jamaican model.
“What I want people to take away from it is not just the pain of tragedy, it’s how we reconfigure ourselves past it.
I’m predominantly passionate about writing about black women, and for me it doesn’t just mean black women from Nigeria. I think blackness is fascinating, especially cross-culturally.
Human beings are so fascinating – we cope with things in all sorts of weird and interesting ways. So I wanted to capture a character like that.
The psychology of it, you know the idea of hiding behind another character and, you know, how do we cope with the traumas that affect us.”
The London-based writer says her £10,000 ($13,000) winnings will buy her more time to travel, to write and maybe even a garden shed as “a little enclave” to work in.
The story, which is called Grace Jones, follows Sidra, a young Martinican woman in London who is wracked with guilt after her whole family dies in a fire that destroys their flat.
In later life she finds a sense of release working as a celebrity impersonator.
Sidra is “hiding under” this mask of Jamaican singer, model and actress Grace Jones, says the author. “But under the character [she] herself is committing dreadful acts.”
This leads to a deliberate blurring between the protagonist and her assumed identity.
The 2019 edition was won by Lesley Nneka Arimah.
The Caine Prize was established in 2000 with the aim of bringing African writing to a wider international audience by highlighting and celebrating short stories published in English by African authors.