Most people are aware of the Caine Prize, a prize for short stories written by African writers, but it’s likely less people know about the Caine Prize workshops.
Each year they hold a ten day workshop in Africa.
The winner and shortlisted writers from the previous year’s Prize are invited as well as additional promising writers from around the continent.
The workshop is ten days and at the end of the ten days they will be required to have finished a short story to be included in that year’s Caine anthology.
This year Motswana writer and MCE English lecturer, Wazha Lopang, was invited to the workshop held in Uganda. I got a chance to interview him about the experience.
Tell me about your writing and publishing successes prior to the workshop.
Wazha: Prior to the workshop I had only seriously submitted a novel for the 2010 Bessie Head competition. I had also published a short story for the 50th Anniversary edition of Mahube.
Did you feel any pressure to complete a short story in ten days?
There was a lot of pressure at first because it is not easy to write in a pressure cooker environment.
However, the main thing was getting your story right in your head before you put it down otherwise it would run away with you.
I was shocked at first to realise that we were expected to write between 3000 and 10 000 words.
My stories generally peak at 1200 words so it was a significant leap.
Describe how the workshop was designed.
The workshop was designed in a way that we spent the mornings and afternoons writing in our rooms or in the gardens or even by the lake (wherever the inspiration was strongest) and then in the evenings about three of us would read two pages aloud for the other members to critique. After each feedback you would work on your story again and present it for a second reading.
Where was the workshop held?
The workshop was held in Uganda, a beautiful setting by Lake Victoria, Garuga Beach Resort.
It was quite secluded and this enabled one to concentrate on the work at hand.
Who were the mentors? Were they helpful?
The mentors were two ladies from South Africa, Wits University to be exact Pam Nichols and Veronique Tadjo.
They were primarily there to help us with content and style.
We had our readings after speaking with them first about the story we were working on and the direction we wanted it to take.
As expected there were disagreements now and then with how a character should develop or why a particular scene was important or why it should be left out but all in all they helped to bring a sense of professionalism to the writing.
Tell me a bit about the other participants.
We had participants from Africa and abroad. Three from Uganda, three from Nigeria, two from Malawi, one from Zimbabwe, one from Kenya and myself. This was quite a diverse group ranging from editors, to freelance writers, to professors, bank employees and we even had an accountant. The previous winner Rotimi Babatunde was present as was those who made the shortlist of the 2012 Caine Prize
Can you tell me a little bit about your story?
It is about a traditional parent who has to contend with the issue of gay marriage. It is told through the eyes of a young girl who sees her father agonise over following tradition or accepting that life has challenges that just will not go away.
Overall what do you see as the Caine Prize’s contribution to writing on the continent?
This Prize is akin to one of those yellow earthmovers you find at Jwaneng mine. They unearth the gems from obscurity and bring them into the light for the world to see. Exposure is a crucial thing for a writer and the Caine Prize unearths and nurtures talent.
Upon returning, what do you feel resonates most for you from this experience?
The ability to be appreciated has no monetary value. Sharing ideas with writers of different tastes and watching how the creative process unfolds is a unique experience that inspires and humbles all in one.
What are your future plans for your writing?
I am working on finishing my novel, One Thief per Church which should be ready by end of the year (fingers crossed).
I also have a novella on Tirelo Setshaba that I want to publish. I am getting a lot of support from local writers for which I am grateful.