Caine Prize 2018 Shortlist : A Celebration of Orthodoxy, Mediocrity and Exhausted Cliches – Pa Ikhide
Ikhide R. Ikheloa a.k.a Pa Ikhide writes non-stop on various online media. Besides his blog at www.xokigbo.com, he maintains an annoying presence on social media where he holds forth and offers unsolicited opinions on any and everything.
He ran a weekly column in the Next newspapers for three years until it was shut down. Ikheloa is notorious for having strong opinions about the literature of Africa. He refuses to write a book because he stubbornly insists that the book is dying a long slow death.
Welcome, Pa. For how long have you followed the Caine Prize and all their activities?
I don’t know, I suspect for as long as they’ve been around, LOL! I started writing about them publicly about a decade ago.
The whole world read your rants when the shortlist was released two weeks ago. What are your thoughts on the stories?
They are mostly disappointing. I am appalled that at least three of the pieces made it into the Caine Prize shortlist. It just seems as if the prize has degenerated into mediocrity again.
Is the Caine Prize for African Writing now a problem in search of a solution? After reading the mostly mediocre pieces on the 2018 shortlist, it just seems that after a decade of some innovation, the prize has regressed.
When you say the stories are mediocre, doesn’t it translate to you questioning the judgement of the judges?
Not really. You work with what you have. I worry that African writers are too fixated on winning prizes, they are writing crap that fits what they think the prize judges will like! All we seem to hear of these days are about folks winning prizes! Nonsense!
What makes a story mediocre? The fact that it has traces of poverty porn? Don’t you think those who write should be left to write?
Yes. Those who write should write, those who read should read. There are lovely pieces that have been written that are filled with misery. It’s not about the theme, it’s about the writing. It’s awful, and poorly edited. These stories were not ready for prime time.
Stacy Hardy’s Involution is the only redeeming effort in the Caine Prize shortlist. She shows muscular writing, discipline with a brilliant, engaging piece that distinguishes itself from the others by not being written in the first person. Read that and rest!
Wole Talabi’s Wednesday Story gets an A for effort, and credit for some innovation in fusing Yoruba folklore with that of the West. It needs an editor and a weed wacker to prune it into a disciplined story. Still, I’ve seen more creative stuff on social media. SMH!
Dhee Sylvester wrote an article which you endorsed. Is wailing about the Caine Prize the solution or taking steps to change the narrative?
I have been wailing about all prizes. The Caine Prize is respectable and more prestigious than the crappy NLNG prize that confers $100,000 on books that no one has ever read. You only pay attention to me when I talk about the white man’s prize! Colonial mentality!
I bet you’ve never heard of the NLNG Prize, that shitty prize managed by ancient people and awarded loudly to people who have allegedly written things that are mostly baffling if not outright silly and undeserving of 100,000 Naira not to talk of $100,000.
Let’s talk the NLNG. Why is no one listening to you if you have been talking? Perhaps they don’t see your opinion as valid?
I don’t know! If my views are not valid, why are you hear disturbing my TV time? Abeg shift jor!
What is the way forward? Do we seize pens from writers until they are accountable or should we get judges who are ready to really judge?
I don’t care. I am a reader-writer who doesn’t need the Caine Prize or any prize to enjoy writing. Young Africans are doing cool 3-D narratives on social media, taunting orthodoxy and engaging us with exciting work and a new paradigm of storytelling! I am good!
The Caine Prize was instituted in 2000; there was no social media then, today, orthodox narrative struggles to engage readers in Africa used to the 3-D call and response of social media. The Caine Prize struggles to be relevant but stereotypes and tired stories won’t help.
Okay. We’ve got questions pouring in from our audience. We shall be taking a couple of them. The first one is from @EhikHilary and he is asking,
“Africans have been writing, writing, and writing since independence, and yet no improvement on the continent?
Let me ask these questions. ‘Why do Africans write? To win awards, or make real positive changes in our various communities?'”
What and why “Africans” write is predetermined by the Western gatekeepers of literature. So much gets lost in the translation as we squeeze into their literary vehicles and biases. It is time to screw all that and tell our own stories our own way. Wait, it’s called social media!
Okay. This next question is from @Rolex7Michael and he says, “Dear Grand Pa Ikhide, do you have any personal mentorship package or program for young African writers that strive to be better and effect real economic, policital and social change on the continent through writing?”
Who be your grandpa? Me? I senior you? Uncle, take it easy.
No. This is the problem, Brilliant young people looking for mentorship and affirmation from the old, mostly flawed people that derailed Africa. Stop being needy and grab your continent and future from the keepers of the past’s secrets. You can do it without us. Get some balls!
This one is actually a statement from an anonymous “angry writer” and it says, “Until Pa can start his own prizes, he should let writers be. We are hustling! Let him keep making enemies.”
Your thoughts, Pa?
Exactly! Hustlers as writers! #GBAM!
Another question and from @DheeGenius, “Pa, do you believe in the need for African writers to be conscious of promoting ‘the African narrative’ through their stories, or would you rather they concentrate on telling good stories regardless of theme or intent?”
They should just tell their stories jor. What is African about suffering? African writers have turned the term “African writing” into a pejorative. It’s not as if they are doing anything about the ills they write about! They take money from mass murderers and wail in the daytime!
@nazaokoli is asking, “We say prizes don’t matter, and in the same breath we berate Caine Prize for recognizing mediocre writers? Don’t you think critics would serve us better if they concentrated on the art itself?”
I have been concentrating on the art. That’s the point; where’s the art?
“It is very easy for Pa Ikhide to critique. He lives in the West, has no book to his name and doesn’t need the money.”
Is she right?
Who said that? SMH. I have actually co-authored real books, have been published in prestigious journals at home and abroad, hehe! Tell your yeye friend to google me. I do live in the West! Guilty as charged and living the West, hehe!
If you were give the chance to chair any of these prizes, what would you look out for?
Is there any literary prize worth its salt now?
I would never be allowed to chair any prize in this life. Are you kidding? the powerful doyens of “African literature” have banished me to a leper colony and no one who wants progress dares touch me. You are so dead! Besides I am an institution! *pounds cute chest*
At the end of the day, who do we blame?
– Writers hungry for sustenance.
– The West who hold the purse strings?
– Other (Indicate).
I blame us. We are doing great work, but we are waiting for the west to bless our hustle – with a fistful of dollars!
Let me say here now that the Caine Prize is in search of a fresh purpose; today’s Africa is not really the postcolonial Africa of old, and all prizes targeted at African writing should reflect the new realities of writing and Africa in the age of the Internet.
Memo to the Caine Prize folks: It doesn’t have to be all about issues. Just tell me a story, any story.
The mostly lazy, predictable stories that made the 2011 shortlist celebrate orthodoxy and mediocrity. They are a riot of exhausted clichés even as ancient conflicts and anxieties fade into the past tense.
Now this was one awesome session but as the saying goes, “Everything good must come to an end.” Special thanks to Pa Ikhide for turning up tonight! He is holding this session all the way from the West a.k.a Land of milk and honey.
“Land of milk and honey” ke? Oya, come na, come enjoy milk and honey, mtscheeeewwww! *resumes flipping burgers At McDonalds*
Lool. Oh, Pa! Special thanks to all those who joined the show.
Until next week, be safe!
This interview originally happened on Twitter. Follow the #SyncityNGLLL to be part of the conversation.