Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize

The Aidoo-Snyder book prize is awarded by the Women's Caucus of the African Studies Association for an outstanding book that prioritizes African women's experiences. Named in honor of Ama Ata Aidoo, the celebrated Ghanaian novelist and short-story writer, and Margaret Snyder the founding Director of UNIFEM, this $500 prize seeks to acknowledge the excellence of contemporary scholarship being produced by women about African women. In alternate years, the prize is awarded for the best scholarly book, or for the best creative work.

The 2021 Aidoo-Snyder scholarly book prize will be given for the best original scholarly work written by a woman (or women) that prioritizes African women’s experience. To this end, the committee invites nominations from publishers or authors. Self-published books are not eligible, and entries may only be submitted for consideration once. The prize is open to authors who have published books in English and English translation in the two years preceding the award year. The books must significantly deal with Africa (including Cape Verde, and the Islands off the West Coast of Africa; Madagascar; and the Indian Ocean Islands of the East African Coast). The deadline for this year's application is June 30, 2021.

 

The 2020 Book Prize committee selected Jumoke Verissimo’s A Small Silence (Cassava Republic, 2019) as the winner of the Aidoo-Snyder Prize for best original creative work. A Small Silence is impressive for several reasons: its moving portrait of post-traumatic stress disorder, its believable point of view, its connections to real-world problems, its engaging depictions of everyday life, its lyrical style, and its sense of humor. A Small Silence explores the brutal treatment of Nigerian prisoners and the long drawn out and debilitating trauma that incarceration produces. As the novel begins, the protagonist, a former Nigerian civil rights activist named Prof., has just been released from decades-long incarceration. Since his traumatic experiences have rendered him mute, we follow his adjustment to civilian life via interior monologues that reflect his fears of exposure and his apprehension about the pleasures and pains of everyday life. Often, he reflects on his prison experiences, trying to figure out if he had succeeded in staying true to himself. Nigeria has a long history of civil rights activists either losing their lives or dying in prison. Still, the psychological effect of such experiences has not been explored very extensively in fiction. This novel describes, in excruciating detail, the mental breakdowns and debilitating depression that Prof. experiences on a daily basis. As readers, we watch him through the eyes of a young girl named Desire, who, being somewhat naïve, has a hard time understanding what he is going through. 

 

The novel is set in present-day Lagos, Nigeria, which appears in all its liveliness and vitality. Nigerian and non-Nigerian readers alike would enjoy the novel’s colorful depictions of Lagos as a melting pot of cultures, traditions and languages. Although the protagonist is male, the point of view is Desire's, and we see everything through her eyes. Her character is well developed and memorable and so are the portraits of her mother and Prof.'s mother, among others. Some of Desire's prior experiences are similar to those of many women across the globe, including domestic violence, sexual harassment, self-doubt, perseverance, and empathy.

 

The novel’s lyrical and poetic style successfully conveys the depths of Prof.’s mental and emotional agonies. In several chapters, the imagery of light and darkness is used to emphasize the importance of clarity of and purpose. Frequently, the author injects humor into the narrative, especially in parts where the characters try to come to terms with the demands of their own lives. Ultimately, the novel is both a compelling depiction of the traumatic impact of incarceration as well as a testament to the human ability to survive. 

The Committee also recognizes the submissions of Peace Adzo Medie and Gabeba Baderoon.

2020 First Runner Up

Peace Adzo Medie, His Only Wife (Algonquin Books, 2020).

2020 Second Runner Up

Gabeba Baderoon, The History of Intimacy (Kwela Books, 2018).

 

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