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Sudanese Writer, Reem Gaafar, Wins 2023 The Island Prize

Sudanese Writer, Reem Gaafar, Wins 2023 The Island Prize

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The Island Prize also recognised two outstanding runners-up, Andile Mashandu Cele from South Africa, and Jesudubami Jemima Aganaba from Nigeria.

By Helena Olori

Sudanese writer, Reem Gaafar, has been announced as winner of the Island Prize 2023 for her captivating fiction manuscript, A Mouth Full of Salt. Set in a small village in northern Sudan during the late 1970s, the book delves into the lives of three women trapped in a social system with a very well-defined gender and racial hierarchy, but which is facing disruption by changing times.

A Mouth Full of Salt sheds light on the deeply age-long gender and racial hierarchies within the village. Despite the encroaching influence of modernity, the villagers stubbornly cling to their societal norms, choosing to blame an outsider for the mysterious events occurring in the village, rather than confront their own bigotry.

According to the judges of this year’s competition led by author and founder of The Island Prize, Karen Jennings, “A Mouth Full of Salt is stylistically simple, insightful, and elegant; sharing truths like all best fiction, it is compelling, has a profound sense of place, and shows brilliance in the ways the destinies weave together.”

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Reem Gaafar
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Andile Mashandu Cele
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Jesudubami Jemima Aganaba

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In addition to Gaafar’s win, the Island Prize has also recognised two outstanding runners-up: Andile Mashandu Cele from South Africa, and Jesudubami Jemima Aganaba from Nigeria.

Mashandu Cele’s Braids and Migraines explores the injustices and struggles faced by young black individuals in post-apartheid South Africa. The story, which is kind of a fable, sheds light on the harsh realities of the country’s educational system.

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The second runner-up, Bobo Hamham, by Aganaba, told through the eyes of three children from three different backgrounds, touches on themes of domestic violence, poverty, religious fanaticism, and the psychological impact of indoctrination.

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Reem Gaafar is a writer, researcher, and public health physician based in Sudan. Her short story, Light of the Desert, was published in the anthology I Know Two Sudans. She’s also a contributor to Relations: An Anthology of Voices from Africa and the Diaspora. Gaafar was shortlisted for the Miles Moreland Foundation Scholarship in 2020.

The Island Prize is a literary prize set up in honour of South African author Karen Jennings’ Booker-longlisted novel, An Island, with the aim of fostering opportunities for African writers to enter and thrive within the UK publishing industry. The Island Prize awards cash rewards of £500, £300, and £200 to the winner and two runners-up respectively, and offers prospect for the three manuscripts to be published, and their authors introduced to an agent.

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