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Olufemi Terry: Africa’s new literary Hercules

Terry’s connection with Nigeria, apart from the Yoruba name, was his growing up in the country. He also spent some period in the United Kingdom,…

Terry’s connection with Nigeria, apart from the Yoruba name, was his growing up in the country. He also spent some period in the United Kingdom, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya,  and was educated in the United States. He worked as a journalist in Uganda and Somalia and currently resides in South Africa.

Winning the prize that has been dubbed the “African Booker” no doubt puts him on a prominent literary pedestal alongside previous winners, Leila Aboulela of Sudan, Segun Afolabi and Helon Habila, both of Nigeria and Kenya Binyavanga Wainaina, who have all gone ahead to launch successful literary careers on the back of the prize. Terry is writing a novel, which will no doubt benefit from his recent success. He is optimistic about this, as he told the BBC after the award.

His winning entry, Stickfighting Days, is a dark story about violence and drug abuse amongs adolescents living on a refuse dump. He got the inspiration while living in Kenya. The story was published in South Africa, where he got an MA in creative writing from the University of Cape Town. His success has been received with great enthusiasm in South Africa.

For one who has lived in practically all corners of the continent, his victory could be said to be a triumph of the continent. This is made even more prominent considering the racial composition of this year’s shortlist. The array of writers represented the diverse colours of a continent many see as “dark”.

If the words of the judge, Fiammetta Rocco, The Economists literary editor, is anything to go by, then Africa’s new literary Hercules has just been born.

 “Ambitious, brave and hugely imaginative, Olufemi Terry’s Stickfighting Days presents a heroic culture that is Homeric in its scale and conception. The execution of this story is so tight and the presentation so cinematic, it confirms Olufemi Terry as a talent with an enormous future,” Rocco said.

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