Chicken by Efemia Chela: 2014 Caine Prize Shortlist Review

Efemia Chela’s short story, Chicken, brilliantly revolves around a young woman attempting to find financial stability and emotional support in a world made for men.

africaKaba is a recent college graduate who finds herself entering into a job market that currently has no use for her. Her rich parents believe that she’s wasted her time in school pursuing personal passions instead of attaining a law degree which they believe will make her financially stable and independent. Defiant to the end, Kaba embarks on a difficult adventure. She moves to the poorer end of town and takes a position as an unpaid intern at a global firm. She hopes to move up the ladder to attain a paid position. But as time passes she realizes that there is no room for promotion in this particular firm, filled as it is with delinquent male drug addicts and thieves.

When Kaba decides to disobey her parents they elect to withdraw their financial support. Kaba is left to fend for herself for the first time in her life. Although her parents think this tactic of withholding financial support will bend Kaba to their will, in actuality it only drives her farther away from her parents and from the world she knows.

Efemia ChelaChela’s story is a coming of age tale that tackles issues of prostitution, egg donation, and same-sex relationships.This short story is written with the utmost skill and attention to detail. As a reader, I was drawn to Kaba’s passion and determination to live her own life free of her parents’ desires for her and demands of her. Chela manages to manipulate the reader into sympathizing and empathizing with Kaba even in situations where the reader may want to reprimand her for her poor choices. The craftsmanship and artistry of this short story is mesmerizing and inspirational.

After reading all the Shortlisted Caine Prize stories of 2014, Chicken is my pick to win.


The Caine Prize for African Writing is described as Africa’s leading literary award and is open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition. Nigeria’s Tope Folarin won the 2013 prize for his short story ‘Miracle’ from his forthcoming novel, The Proximity of Distance. ‘Miracle’ was first published in Transition, Issue 109 (Bloomington, 2012). Other notable winners of the Prize include: Nigerian Helon Habila (2001), South African Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008), and Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo (2011). Notable Shortlistees: South African Tim Keegan (2011), Nigerian Chimamanda Adichie (2002), and Djiboutian Abdourahman Waberi (2000).

Phosphorescence by Diane Awerbuck: 2014 Caine Prize Shortlist Review

A story of family bonds, community gentrification and human excrement, Diane Awerbuck has created, in Phosphorescencea story featuring handsome prose and an elegant plot.

ocean-phosphorescence-800x546Alice is an older woman who has, for the last 50 years, swam daily in a man-made reservoir, Graaf’s Pool, near her home. Unfortunately, the local municipality has ordered its demolition. This looming reality devastates Alice. Although the crux of the story is the age-old tale of older values versus modern opinions, the story is driven by the unshaken commitment Alice has toward her community, by the empathy the reader develops for Alice’s granddaughter Brittany as she attempts to become an independent young woman, and by the beauty and spoilage of Graaf’s Pool, which is incandescent in the evenings because algae feeds on the raw sewage from a nearby plant that flows through the pool. Although Alice knows that her treasured pool is unclean, perhaps even dangerously so, she chooses to ignore this. Instead, she submerges herself in the glowing pool each day.

Alice and Brittany’s relationship strengthens due to a series of unfortunate 2014_awerbuckevents that force them to protect one other.  Their relationship triumphs despite their age difference and their vastly different perspectives and beliefs. Awerbuck has constructed a plot that is at once familiar and innovative. I found myself lost in the beauty of her prose. I would recommend this story to any reader who is interested in exploring how community transformations can impact and positively revamp family relations.


The Caine Prize for African Writing is described as Africa’s leading literary award and is open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition. Nigeria’s Tope Folarin won the 2013 prize for his short story ‘Miracle’ from his forthcoming novel, The Proximity of Distance. ‘Miracle’ was first published in Transition, Issue 109 (Bloomington, 2012). Other notable winners of the Prize include: Nigerian Helon Habila (2001), South African Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008), and Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo (2011). Notable Shortlistees: South African Tim Keegan (2011), Nigerian Chimamanda Adichie (2002), and Djiboutian Abdourahman Waberi (2000).

My Father’s Head by Okwiri Oduor: 2014 Caine Prize Shortlist Review

1236631_236483393170240_322203887_nIn Okwiri Oduor’s short story, My Father’s Head, the narrator is a young woman mourning the loss of her father. In her grief realizes that she has forgotten what her father’s head is shaped like. The words of a priest prompt her to dig through the repressed and painful memories of her childhood to rediscover what she has lost.

The narrator decides to use art to summon the image of her father’s head. Her attempt at finding his image through drawing proves challenging:

“…his head refused to appear within the borders of the paper,” the narrator says.

w1611She draws many pictures of him but in her pictures he remains headless—there are facial features but no shape to his head. Her focus and determination is admirable throughout the story and the reader can easily sympathize with her agony in the search and her hunger to remember.

Oduor uses descriptions of food to propel the story by enabling the narrator to sort through her memories with vivid descriptions of the smells and tastes of the world around her. Oduor is also able to briefly touch on the famines and violence that have ravaged the African continent through the narrator’s memories without overwhelming the reader with too many doses of misery. In my opinion, Oduor works too hard at placing descriptions of food at the center of the story and in doing so obscures the prose and stunts its development. However, I enjoyed reading and learning about the different foods this community and the power that food has on cultural development.


The Caine Prize for African Writing is described as Africa’s leading literary award and is open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition. Nigeria’s Tope Folarin won the 2013 prize for his short story ‘Miracle’ from his forthcoming novel, The Proximity of Distance. ‘Miracle’ was first published in Transition, Issue 109 (Bloomington, 2012). Other notable winners of the Prize include: Nigerian Helon Habila (2001), South African Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008), and Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo (2011). Notable Shortlistees: South African Tim Keegan (2011), Nigerian Chimamanda Adichie (2002), and Djiboutian Abdourahman Waberi (2000).

The Gorilla’s Apprentice by Billy Kahora: 2014 Caine Prize Shortlist Review

Part Ismael: An Adventure of the Mind and Spirit and part Life of Pi, The Gorilla’s Apprentice, by Billy Kahora tells the story of a young man learning about humanity through the eyes of a gorilla.

Jimmy, the protagonist, is a curious and caring young man. He wants to learn tomKBkxo_FTgIEsB8QgElLlgA speak with gorillas because he has befriended a gorilla in a local zoo. Sebastian, an ancient mountain gorilla in Nairobi’s Animal Orphanage, was relocated from Rwanda to Kenya after the genocide that killed many Tutsis and the majority of the mountain gorillas in the country. Jimmy fears that Sebastian will die before long because he is becoming lethargic in his cage and not eating regularly.

Desperate to communicate with Sebastian, Jimmy locates a “gorilla speaker,” Professor Charles Semambo in his town. The reader learns that Semambo arrived in Kenya from Rwanda after the genocide in an attempt to make a new life for himself. Semambo seems knowledgeable to Jimmy albeit a bit quirky. Yet, Jimmy looks beyond his initial peculiar impressions of Semambo and explains that he’s spent his entire childhood at the zoo sitting near Sebastian’s cage and feels connected to him. Jimmy is able to convince Semambo to join him on a visit to the zoo and the story takes an interesting and thought provoking turn.

kahoraThis story is well crafted, engaging and exciting. Kahora is able to weave in the sordid history of the Rwandan genocide and the struggle for democracy in Kenya in a captivating and sophisticated way. I would recommend this story to anyone interested in reading about the unspoken connection between human beings to one another, and other animals.


The Caine Prize for African Writing is described as Africa’s leading literary award and is open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition. Nigeria’s Tope Folarin won the 2013 prize for his short story ‘Miracle’ from his forthcoming novel, The Proximity of Distance. ‘Miracle’ was first published in Transition, Issue 109 (Bloomington, 2012). Other notable winners of the Prize include: Nigerian Helon Habila (2001), South African Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008), and Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo (2011). Notable Shortlistees: South African Tim Keegan (2011), Nigerian Chimamanda Adichie (2002), and Djiboutian Abdourahman Waberi (2000).

Finding Scientific Proof of Heaven

Dr. Eben Alexander is a neurosurgeon who, at age 54, mysteriously contracted a rare brain illness, e coli meningitis. While he was in a coma for seven days, part of his brain ceased to function—the part that manages thought and emotion. As soon as his doctors began to talk to his family about stopping treatment, Dr. Alexander’s eyes opened and his miraculous rehabilitation began. Unlike any other patient in history, he was back to his old self in less than a week.

300x300In Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, Dr. Alexander shares his personal testimony of his near-death experience (NDE). Prior to his NDE, Dr. Alexander didn’t believe that comatose patients could experience anything more than a dream—their mind, in an attempt to cope with a traumatic event would create “visions” ‘in which they flew or spoke with a dead relative. However, once Dr. Alexander began to write down his own NDE account, he realized that the experiences that he’d heard and read of other NDEs were similar to his own. In the book, Dr. Alexander shares his wordless “conversations” with angles and his rousing musical conversation with God. Dr. Alexander refers to God as Om. For Dr. Alexander, om is the sound that he heard when in the presence of God and the warmth that he felt surrounded by that omnipresent love and peace.

I was originally drawn to this book after watching Dr. Alexander’s conversation with Oprah Winfrey on her show, Super Soul Sunday.

An excerpt:

As a Christian, I grew up learning, believing and fully committing to the understanding that when my body dies my soul will live on. I know and believe that my soul will reconnect to my God and move on to a place with no space and time. I am not fearful of my body dying, I’m just nervous.

1349486664139.cachedFortunately, my dreams have been filled with the images that Dr. Alexander provides in this book—my soul has been calmed by them. I am still a bit nervous for my body to pass away but simply nervous in the way a person would be nervous about entering a new classroom in college, or nervous in the way a person would feel on their wedding day. My nervousness isn’t rooted in fear because I know the journeymy soul will takewill be beautiful and good for me. I am comforted by the images Dr. Alexander shares because as a human being they allow my simple mind to hold on to something familiar.

I would recommend this book to anyone open to thinking through a spiritual experience. I would also recommend this book to spiritual skeptics because Dr. Alexander attempts to scientifically rule out all possibilities of the mind fantasizing about God during an NDE. His story is truly compelling.

 

Things I Know For Sure: Growing Love

Here are my humble thoughts on growing a loving relationship. I know some of my notes may seem controversial but they are my truths. I believe relationships have to be nurtured. Each relationship is different and has to be handled differently. The thoughts, comments, and beliefs located within this post work beautifully for my relationship. I hope some of them are universal.

1: Distance is OK in a relationship

This was a hard one for me when my fiancé moved back from Great Britain after winning the Rhodes Scholarship and studying at Oxford and then working for Google. I wanted to be with him all the time. I never wanted him out of my sight. I missed him so much because of all the time he spent out of the country and away from me. When we moved to DC together, I still wanted to live under him. He was super kind and understanding of my needs/wants. As time went on, however, I realized that I was far too obsessed with him and not in a good way. I needed to learn to love him from the other side of the couch, and then from the kitchen, and then from the other side of the apartment… eventually I worked up to realizing that I could love him just the same whether he was in the house or not. At the time, I thought I needed to show him how much I loved him or maybe he would forget. I’ve learned since that a little distance makes the heart grow fonder. Now, I’m excited when he goes out and hangs with his friends, when he goes and spends hours in a museum, when he takes a walk around the neighborhood, and when he is absorbed in his computer on the couch. I understand now that our relationship is strong whether we are right next to each other or not. And really, when he has time to do his thing and I have time to do my thing we always come back with great stories for one another and we appreciate our time together even more.  

2: Put Downs are a No Go

There is no reason in the world for my fiancé and I to put each other down. He is my sun and I am his moon. No one in the world is going to love him or honor him the way I will and should as his partner, and vice versa. We both make sure that we work on respecting one another. At certain points in this relationship, we definitely unintentionally disrespect each other. This happens when we misinterpret each other’s actions or we handle a situation differently than the other person might. In these moments, it can be hard to see where we as individuals messed up because to us it may seem like a normal reaction. However, when the other person tells us that their feelings are hurt then pride goes out the window and we try to make it right. We are definitely better at this now than ever before.

3: Trust, Trust and Trust some more

Trust is earned and built. I trust him totally and I know he trusts me the same.  

4: Don’t take your partner for granted

At times, I feel my fiancé does too much! He bends over backwards for me all the time and I don’t always think I deserve that type of love or care. We share with each other what we appreciate about each other, every day. We don’t let a day pass by without saying, “thank you” for this or for that. We don’t even think about saying thank you any more it’s just a natural part of our relationship. We don’t take each other for granted.

5: There is no need to rush

10303774_10203776217827422_6806489555828888092_nI’m glad to say that I am learning not to rush the milestones. I must be on my fiancé’s schedule because he is the head of our household. I can make a request (and be very annoying about it) but the final decision is left to him. This was hard for me to learn because for some reason I was associating my pride with his decision making and I wasn’t going to allow anyone to tell me what to do or what not to do. This was wrong! I grew up. I realized that he picked me and I picked him and in that picking I made a choice to respect and honor him. My pride gets in the way at times, but I’m happy to say that my prideful moments don’t last long any more. Giving in to his choices doesn’t make me weak it actually makes me stronger! I am learning to submit, in the biblical sense, and I’m very happy about this.

6: Talk about EVERYTHING

My fiancé says that I treat him like my girlfriend sometimes… oops I really do. I tell him far too much about girl stuff but he’s my baby and that’s what I do. But really, we talk about everything no matter how difficult. That’s the only way we know how to be. We are crafting this relationship each day with trust and honesty.

7: Inspire each other

I absolutely wouldn’t be who I am without my fiancé. I would be a cool chick but I wouldn’t be this intelligent (he pushes me to think and debate), I wouldn’t be loving (he forces me to love even when I’m fearful), I wouldn’t be this honest with myself or others (he nudges me to trust myself and my strengths), I wouldn’t be this driven (he guides me toward the goals in my soul), I wouldn’t be this soulful (he teaches me to live in prayer), etc. I could go on and on but I’ll just say without my fiancé I simply wouldn’t be this kind of Stephanie.

8: Partners fight, that’s ok 

Yes we fight, but we don’t fight each other. We fight about ideas and opinions. We don’t attack character. I’m sure we will have disagreements forever, but the way we handle them says so much about where we are in our love, in our respect for our selves, in our respect for each other and in our respect for this relationship.

9: Pick battles but don’t start wars

YES, we both pick our battles, now. There is no reason to always fuss about the goings on of the day. There are things that irk me and there are things that irk him. Picking and choosing is a choice we make in this relationship. I think the real goal is making it so the other person doesn’t know they irked us. I want my fiancé to think he is always right. I want him to walk into our home feeling like this is his kingdom and he doesn’t have to fight anyone here because this is his sanctuary. I know that he wants me to feel safe, supported and taken care of in our home too… and I do. Picking battles doesn’t make you weak it makes you a loving partner.

10: Feel Better and Be Better Together

My fiancé and I have been together since we were 19 going on 20. I can’t imagine my life without him and I wouldn’t want to. My life is stupendously better with him in it.

11: Be comfortable in silence 

I actually enjoy just sitting in a room with my fiancé or walking up the street hand-in-hand. We don’t have to say a word and it is just as wonderful as having an all night discussion about a book, a play or some news article. With him every moment, in silence or in sound, is breathtakingly marvelous.

12: Flexibility

All the comments above prove our flexibility.

 

The Intervention by Tendai Huchu: 2014 Caine Prize Shortlist Review

Tendai_Huchu.270The Intervention by Tendai Huchu tells the story of a chance meeting of a group of Zimbabwean ex-patriots and friends in the United Kingdom. This group gets together to have a casual conversation about the impending political elections in Zimbabwe and about life in general. However, shortly into the festivities, this group turns their attention to solving a young couple’s dispute about relationships and commitment.

The couple is in need of an intervention—one that will unite them ordissolve their relationship. As the intervention takes place the Zimbabwean election results are being televised in the background. The juxtapositioning of the contentious election results and the livelycouple’s counseling in this story makes for a riveting read.

The Intervention is simplistically complex. Huchu is clearly on a quest to force the reader to think through issues of political and personal exile; cultural disconnections as a result of distance and assimilation; the ways in which politics impacts livelihoods; and the various forms of interventions both in love and in a community. Huchu plays with analogies in this piece in a sophisticated manner. The Intervention is a very well crafted story and a pleasure to read.


The Caine Prize for African Writing is described as Africa’s leading literary award and is open to writers from anywhere in Africa for work published in English. Its focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition. Nigeria’s Tope Folarin won the 2013 prize for his short story ‘Miracle’ from his forthcoming novel, The Proximity of Distance. ‘Miracle’ was first published in Transition, Issue 109 (Bloomington, 2012). Other notable winners of the Prize include: Nigerian Helon Habila (2001), South African Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008), and Zimbabwean NoViolet Bulawayo (2011). Notable Shortlistees: South African Tim Keegan (2011), Nigerian Chimamanda Adichie (2002), and Djiboutian Abdourahman Waberi (2000).

 

Discerning The Ties That Bind In The Lowland

The Lowland is the third and most recent novel by acclaimed writer Jhumpa Lahiri.

9780307265746_custom-6f7b19b876179bb4e026d0d3b5ed4286ade72482-s6-c30This tale of love, loss and family takes place in post-Independence India in a lowland area of Calcutta called Tollygunde. The story revolves around two natives of Tollygunde—Subhash, a conformist, and his younger brother Udayan, a pretentious contrarian. Subhash and Udayan are inseparable as children, but as they enter adulthood their political ideologies and personal goals push them toward divergent paths. Subhash travels to the United States to pursue his education and Udayan joins a Mao-inspired revolutionary political group. Their relationship suffers with the strain of distance; their brotherly bond is soon broken.

At various moments throughout the novel, loneliness is palpable. Subhash feels the weight of loneliness when he first leaves the comforts of home for the United States. Gauri, Udayan’s wife, feels loneliness throughout her life because of her strained family ties and the subservient role of women in her community. And Bela, Udayan’s daughter, feels the loneliness of not belonging fully to the Indian society in which she was born or the American society or culture in which she grows up. Resentment, frustration, guilt and pain are neatly woven into Lahiri’s tale of loneliness as well. These families face challenges, both internal and external, and some of these challenges bring them closer together and some of them stretch them farther apart.

jhumpa_lahiri_photo_newIn my opinion, The Lowland brilliantly yanks back the curtain on one family and places their dysfunction on full display. This novel has its rocky moments of sadness and despair but there are harmonious moments of joy and fulfillment. Overall, Lahiri dissects this family in such a way as to make me love and hate them, sometimes on a single page. Lahiri has created a masterful work; I highly recommend this novel to anyone interested in reading a beautiful piece of fiction. 

Related Book Talk:
The New York Times: A Brother, Long Gone, Is Painfully Present Jhumpa Lahiri’s New Novel, ‘The Lowland’
The Washington Times: BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Lowland’
The Washington Post: Review: ‘The Lowland,’ by Jhumpa Lahiri
The Guardian: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri – review: Does Man-Booker-shortlisted novelist Jhumpa Lahiri’s real skill lie in short stories?
Los Angeles Times: Jhumpa Lahiri comes up short in ‘The Lowland’
The New Yorker: Unknown Territory: An Interview with Jhumpa Lahiri
 
 

I Am An Educator & Here’s WHY

unnamedMy life’s work is about aiding in the development of students who will have a positive impact on the world. I strongly believe that teachers must emphasize the importance of clear expectations of behavior and performance when speaking with students. Schools are all about relationship building and I take the responsibility of creating an inclusive and nurturing community very seriously.

I teach to ensure that the students who pass through this campus take ownership of our world. I set community expectations and individual expectations that challenge my students to embrace the world and give of themselves to it.

When my students transition into high school, I want to make sure each of them understands that high school is filled with trials and tribulations that will help them become who they are supposed to be. I spend a lot of time making sure that they each understand that successfully balancing their friendships and their academic careers will be hard, but throughout their high school experience they will become stronger and more focused in all areas if they work hard and put forth effort.

2013-06-14 12.24.31While on the Burgundy Farm Country Day School campus my students are exposed to complex and innovative literature, theories and concepts.

I challenge them to manipulate this information in such a way that all of it becomes absorbed within their consciousness.

  • I challenge them to push themselves beyond what they think possible.
  • I challenge them to figure out how to transform each classroom that they are a part of (formally and informally) and make that space their own.
  • I challenge them to speak up!

I demand that each of my students soak in everything they are exposed to. I want them to digest all of the information and then create something the world has never seen before. I want them to use their voices to force positive change through social justice here and elsewhere.

No matter how uncomfortable they may be speaking up for what is right and just, I challenge them to speak.

No matter how late they have to stay up to truly master a concept or complete a reading task (with appropriate notes), I challenge them to stay up.

I challenge them to engage in all conversations with insightful, well-crafted arguments that force everyone around them—including me—to have “ah ha” moments.

Along with all of these expectations and challenges, I spend a lot of time making sure my students know that they don’t have to do any of this alone. They know that if they ever need some words of encouragement, someone to edit a paper, and/or someone to study with I will be right here willing and ready to help each one of them.

I Am An Educator

 

No Nigerians on Deck. Don’t Fear, They’re Here!

There aren’t any Nigerian writers on the 2014 shortlist for The Caine Prize for African Writers, but not to worry, there are five exceptional shortlistees. I will review each shortlist entry for my blog, An Educator’s Expedition, but I wanted to take a few moments to address the absence of Nigerians on the shortlist.

logoRotimi Babatunde and Tope Folarin the 2012 and 2013 winners, respectively, are both sons of Nigeria. I’m sure many magnificent Nigerian writers submitted worthy storiesbut not one of those pieces was placed on the shortlist. How could that be?

I’ve come up with two potential answers to why there aren’t any Nigerians on the shortlist. Maybe the Caine Prize judges were worried about the Prize appearing as if it favored Nigerian writers and decided to pause for a year and only place non-Nigerian writers on the shortlist to ensure continued interestfrom other African writers. Or, possibly the Nigerian writers who entered pieces didn’t rise to the level of “Caine Prize winner” material and the cards simply didn’t fall in their favor. Both reasons could potentially be fact—probably the latter rather than the former since the committee is professional. But I think the former argument could be true because the committee is possibly more political than people assume. What do you think?

topefolarinTope Folarin’s debut novel, The Proximity of Distance, is soon to hit the market and we will again witness the brilliant talent of a son of Nigeria. So don’t fear, Nigerian writers are on deck and will continue to stock our libraries, hearts and souls with thought provoking prose.

Nigerian Prose 2014:
Every Day Is For The Thief: Fiction, by Teju Cole (US release 2014)
All Our Names, by Dinaw Mengestu
Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi