In my last post, 13 Lessons I Learned From Blogging, a few hours ago I described NoViolet Bulawayo as “one of the hottest literary talents to come out of Zimbabwe.” It might have sounded hyperbolic, but she reinforced my observations by clinching the 2014 Zora Neale Hurston/ Richard Wright Legacy Award for her awesome fictional debut, We Need New Names.
She received the prestigous 2014 Hurston/ Wright Legacy Award for fiction on Friday at the Carnegie Library in Northwest Washington.
This award is a fitting reward for a young literary star on the rise. Her debut novel has taken the world by storm and caused such a sensation, I can only imagine what her future work will do.
The award is a literary prize awarded by the National Community of Black Writers. It is the first of its kind to be awarded to black American writers. Richard Wright (Black Boy and Native Son) and Zora Neale Hurston, the awards namesakes, are two of the most influential black American authors.
I first heard of NoViolet Bulawayo when I started writing for the South African Newspaper in London.
In fact, her short story, Hitting Budapest (the first chapter), an extract from her debut, was nominated for the Caine Prize in African Writing in 2011.
My very first assignment was to interview her with regards to that nomination. We were both just beginning our respective journeys and I was humbled and inspired by her humble and focussed approach.
I have watched her rise. She is a phenomenal woman and sister. She is unpretentious. She has an aura and cool, calm collected-ness and confidence that comes with people who are blessed with talent, humility and drive.
She is not a diva. Considering her accomplishments, you could forgive her. But she has remained grounded and approachable and in touch with her humble roots which she has used as a launching pad to dizzing heights. Only she knows where she is in orbit with the Stars.
She went on to win the coveted Caine Prize in African writing that year and has soared to greater heights since then, racking up a host of nominations and awards, including the Man Booker Prize 2013 the Guardian First Book Award, the Pen Hemingway Award, LA Times Book Prize Art Seidenbaum Award, the Etisalat Prize for Literature and ultimately the 2014 Zora Neale Hurston/ Richard Wright Legacy Award.
She has been recognised by various prestigious publications and organisations. The list is too long to mention individually.
NoViolet Bulawayo has come a long way since I first interviewed her in 2011, reviewed her debut, wrote an essay about her for my publishing module and chatted to her numerous times. She is a true inspiration for our generation.
Over the years, I have chatted to her on a range of subjects and she is an exceptional person, very grounded, polite and giving.
During those conversations she was always encouraging and pushing me to publish my book and sharing advice. I was flattered she recognised my talent without ever getting to read my work. She is such a giving person.
I got to know her “almost” as a friend. And I am so happy for her success in the way I’d be proud of my own sister or kinswoman who had achieved some phenomenal success.
Her coup is spectacular considering the strength of the other nominees and finalists in the fiction category. Some of them are legends by right and some are accomplished writers with several novels to their names. They are:
- Every Boy Should Have A Man by Preston L. Allen (Akashic);
- The Residue Years by Mitchell S. Jackson (Bloomsbury);
- See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid (Farrar, Straus & Giroux);
- The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (Penguin);
- The Gospel According to Cane by Courttia Newland (Akashic).
Previous winners include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Uwem Akpan, Aminatta Forna, Kwame Dawes and Junot Diaz. NoViolet Bulawayo is in distinguished literary company and all the names above put her win into context.
I can imagine women ululating and dancing within Zimbabwe and the Diaspora at the literary success of one of her most distinguished daughters of the soil. I say makorokoto, amhlope, congratulations sister. You gone and done us proud.
You can read, Hitting Budapest, an extract from NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut novel We Need New Names here. I recommend you get your copy from Amazon, the library or any of your local booksellers. It is a great read. Trust me on this one. You won’t regret it.