The Ethiopian American writer Meron Hadero has been awarded the 2021 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story “The Street Sweep,” published in ZYZZYVA (2018). This is the first time an Ethiopian writer has won since the Prize’s inception in 2000.
The Chair of the AKO Caine Prize Judging Panel, Goretti Kyomuhendo, Founder and Director of the African Writers Trust, announced the winner of the £10,000 prize in a film released on Monday 26 July on the Prize’s YouTube channel.
“The Street Sweep” sets forth the story of Getu, an Ethiopian boy at a crossroad of his life as he negotiates the imported power dynamics of foreign aid in Addis Ababa. Set against the backdrop of personal trauma, threatening displacement and forced expropriation, the young narrator weighs his opportunities and soon understands the game of survival that leads the story to culminate in a hopeful twist. In this beautiful tale, the street sweep accounts for the young, ingenuous generation, determined to push open the doors previously closed on them.
Announcing the winner via a film curated for the award’s announcement, Goretti Kyomuhendo said: “The genius of this story lies in Hadero’s ability to turn the lens on the clichéd, NGO story in Africa to ‘do good and do it well.’ It takes us away from the external organisation coming to Ethiopia to help the poor, and focuses the narrative on Getu, an eighteen-year old street sweeper, figuring out ways to navigate the nuances of the rich and poor. Utterly without self-pity, it is Getu’s naivety that endears us to him.”
Kyomuhendo continued: “’The Street Sweep’ is superbly crafted, the language fluid, and weighted with colour and memorable symbolism. Optimism, trust and betrayal ride side by side; but ultimately, this is a story about the redeeming power of hope: ‘Hope is the greatest asset a man can have.’ What stood out for the judges was the story’s subtle, but powerful ending, and how everything comes brilliantly together in a clever twist, that sees Getu transform; and the reader pushed to question the thin line between ‘making it’, and the necessary subjugation of the soul.”
Meron Hadero is an Ethiopian-American writer who was born in Addis Ababa and came to the U.S. via Germany as a young child. She is the winner of the 2020 Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing. In 2019, she was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for her story “The Wall.” Her short stories have been published in ZYZZYVA, Ploughshares, Addis Ababa Noir, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, New England Review, Best American Short Stories, among others. Her writing has also been in The New York Times Book Review, The Displaced: Refugee Writers on Refugee Lives, and will appear in the forthcoming anthology Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us. A 2019-2020 Steinbeck Fellow at San Jose State University, she’s been a fellow at Yaddo, Ragdale, and MacDowell, and her writing has been supported by the International Institute at the University of Michigan, the Elizabeth George Foundation, and Artist Trust.
Hadero is an alum of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, where she worked as a research analyst for the President of Global Development, and holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan, a JD from Yale, and a BA in history from Princeton with a certificate in American Studies.
“The Street Sweep” is available to read now on the AKO Caine Prize website.
Joining Meron on this year’s shortlist were:
- Doreen Baingana (Uganda) for her story “Lucky” published in Ibua Journal, Online in Kampala, Uganda, 2021. Read here.
- Rémy Ngamije (Rwanda and Namibia) for his story “The Giver of Nicknames” published in Lolwe, Kenya, 2020. Read here.
- Troy Onyango (Kenya) for his story “This Little Light of Mine” published in Doek! Literary Magazine, Namibia, 2020. Read here.
- Iryn Tushabe (Uganda) for her story “A Separation” published in EXILE Quarterly, Canada 2018. Read here.
Each AKO Caine Prize shortlisted writer receives £500.
Alongside Goretti Kyomuhendo on the 2021 judging panel were Razia Iqbal, who is a BBC News Presenter on Newshour on the World Service, and the World Tonight on Radio 4. Victor Ehikhamenor, an award-winning multimedia artist, photographer and writer whose works have featured in several international exhibitions including the 57th Venice Biennale. Georgina Godwin, an independent broadcast journalist and a regular chair of literary events, worldwide. She is also Books Editor for Monocle 24 and presenter of the in-depth author interview show “Meet the Writers.” Nicholas Makoha is a Ugandan born writer and the founder of The Obsidian Foundation, a one-week retreat for black poets of African descent who want to advance their writing practice led by five black acclaimed tutors.
Previous winners are Sudan’s Leila Aboulela (2000), Nigerian Helon Habila (2001), Kenyan Binyavanga Wainaina (2002), Kenyan Yvonne Owuor (2003), Zimbabwean Brian Chikwava (2004), Nigerian Segun Afolabi (2005), South African Mary Watson (2006), Ugandan Monica Arac de Nyeko (2007), South African Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008), Nigerian EC Osondu (2009), Sierra Leonean Olufemi Terry (2010), Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo (2011), Nigerian Rotimi Babatunde (2012), Nigerian Tope Folarin (2013), Kenyan Okwiri Oduor (2014), Zambian Namwali Serpell (2015), South African Lidudumalingani (2016), Sudanese writer, Bushra al-Fadil (2017), Kenyan Makena Onjerika (2018); Nigerian Lesley Nneka Arimah (2019) and Nigerian-British Irenosen Okojie (2020).
An anthology containing the five 2021 AKO Caine Prize shortlisted stories will be published along with two short stories from the Prize’s Online With Vimbai programme, respectively by Rafeeat Aliyu and TJ Benson.