Month: April 2004

Caine African Prize

The shortlist for the 2004 Caine Prize has been announced. The finalists are Doreen Baingana (Uganda) for “Hunger,” which appeared in The Sun; Brian Chikwava (Zimbabwe) for “Seventh Street Alchemy,” which was published in Writing Still: New Stories from Zimbabwe; Parselelelo Kantai (Kenya) for “The Story of Comrade Lemma and the Black Jerusalem Boys Band,” which appeared in Kwani?; Monica Arac de Nyeko (Uganda) for Strange Fruit,” which appeared online at AuthorMe; and Chika Unigwe (Nigeria) for “The Secret,” which was online at Open Wide. All the short-listed authors will receive a travel award, and the winner will take home $15,000. The Caine Prize has been dubbed “The African Booker.” Previous winners include Leila Aboulela (Sudan), Helon Habila (Nigeria), Binyavanga Wainaina (Kenya) and Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (Kenya). I haven’t seen coverage of the shortlist anywhere on the major outlets, but if I come across anything, I’ll update here.

Thanks to Sefi for the link.

Around the ‘Sphere

The lovely and talented Maud Newton has won first prize in the creative writing contest at the City College of New York. Of course, being the humble person that she is, she mentions way at the bottom of this entry about her return to NYC.

During the last couple of days, Carrie A. A. Frye (CAAF) guest-blogged at Maud’s site and had lots of interesting material, from poetry and polar exploration to Borges and Poe. Look for CAAF’s blog very soon.

God of the Machine has a fantastic parody of one of Terry’s recent posts, and Terry loves it.

Andrea Barrett’s Ship Fever

In Andrea Barrett’s Ship Fever men and women with a passion for science try to escape the confines of their gender or social position to practice what they love, and while they’re not always successful in doing so, the insights they come by illuminate the arguably greater mysteries of the human heart.
In “The Behavior of the Hawkweeds” a woman uses a letter written by Gregor Mendel about his experiments on peas and hawkweeds to woo a genetics professor, who in turns uses it to dazzle his students, but the story behind the letter often remains unappreciated, just as Mendel’s work was during his lifetime.
In “The Littoral Zone,” we witness a couple of scientists’ unexpected love affair while on a work retreat. Barrett is masterful in her exploration of the ways in which the couple seeks to justify leaving their families.

Nothing that was to come–not the days in court, nor the days they moved, nor the losses of jobs and homes–would ever seem so awful to them as that moment when they first saw their families standing there, unaware and hopeful. Deceitfully, treacherously, Ruby and Jonathan separated and walkled to the people awaiting them.

The collection consists of modern-day tales as well as stories about science in less enlightened times. In “Rare Bird,” set in Kent in 1762, a woman who is fascinated by aquatic anthropoids is rebuffed in her attempts to disprove a widely held theory about the “hibernation” of swallows.

Christopher is glaring at her. [Sarah Anne] knows what he’s thinking: in his new, middle-aged stodginess, assumed unnecessarily early and worn like a borrowed coat, he judges her harshly. She’s been forward in entering the conversation, unladylike in offering an opinion that contradicts some of her guests, indelicate in suggesting that she might pursue a flock of birds with a net.

Sarah Anne has much in common with the protagonist of “Birds With No Feet,” a naturalist who seems to be kept from making much of his finds around the world by his social station back home in pre-revolution America.
In nearly every story, Barrett weaves an impressive amount of scientific information, but the result is never forced or heavy or dull. She has a talent for mixing historical figures (Gregor Mendel, Carl Linnaeus) with fictitious scientists, and making the result not only plausible but entirely engaging. Perhaps the only false note in this otherwise dazzling collection is “The Marburg Sisters,” in which the point of view (going from one sister to the other to ther first-person plural) felt a bit contrived.
Still, Barrett has produced a remarkable collection, full of intelligence and grace. Ship Fever is one of the best collections I’ve read in a while.

New LOC Resource

The Library of Congress has a brand new resource for book lovers, Guide to Poetry & Literature Streaming Video. Compiled by Peter Armenti, it’s essentially a big database of video clips of poets, fiction writers, and critics. The clips are varied in nature: book readings, interviews, lectures. I’ve already spent quite some time browsing through, and it’s a site I’ll be coming back to for links.


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