Irenosen Okojie has been announced as the winner of the 2020 AKO Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story about a Grace Jones impersonator with a dark secret.
Judges praised the Nigerian-British author’s work as “radical” and “risky” as it deals with issues of trauma and questions of identity, as well as enjoyment and escapism.
The story, called Grace Jones, is centred on Sidra, a young Black woman in London who is suffering with shame and guilt after her entire family perishes in a fire started in their flat. Later in her journey she finds a kind of release while working as a Grace Jones impersonator.
Sidra uses the image of the famous Jamaican model, singer, and actress Grace Jones as a literal mask, “But under the character [she] herself is committing dreadful acts,” said the author.
A purposeful blurring between the protagonist and her pseudo identity then begins… Check out the 4-minute excerpt below.
“What I want people to take away from it is not just the pain of tragedy, it’s how we reconfigure ourselves past it,” Okojie told the BBC.
“I’m predominantly passionate about writing about black women, and for me it doesn’t just mean black women from Nigeria,” Okojie says. “I think blackness is fascinating, especially cross-culturally.”
Speaking to BBC focus on Africa, Okojie added: “Human beings are so fascinating – we cope with things in all sorts of weird and interesting ways. So I wanted to capture a character like that. The psychology of it, you know the idea of hiding behind another character and, you know, how do we cope with the traumas that affect us.”
The writer says her £10,000 ($13,000) winnings will give her the chance to continue her travels and writing, and to maybe purchase a garden shed as “a little enclave” to write in.