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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 July, 2003, 12:38 GMT 13:38 UK
African writing prize goes to Kenya
Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor standing by the statue of the late Sir Michael Cane in Oxford
Yvonne also works with the Zanzibar film festival

A Kenyan author Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor, has won the Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story Weight of Whispers.

Ms Owuor, told the BBC's Network Africa programme she felt "excited" and "stunned", saying she had an obligation to encourage other people in Africa to write.

Her story is written in the voice of an aristocratic Rwandan refugee in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide.

The prize, worth $15,000, is given for a short story written in English by an African author and is considered one of the most prestigious awards for African literature.

The American embassy visa section woman has purple hair. Her voice evokes the grumbling of a he-toad which once lived in the marsh behind our family house in the country
Extract from Weight of Whispers
The result was announced by the chair of the judges, Dr Abdulrazak Gurnah, at a dinner held on Monday in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, in the UK.

"The short listed stories in this year's Caine Prize were all worthy winners in their own right," said Dr Gurnah.

The great strength of Weight of Whispers is the subtle and suggestive way it dramatises the condition of the refugee and also successfully incorporates so many large issues, he said.

'Bank details'

An extract from Weight of Whispers reads:

    "The American embassy visa section woman has purple hair. Her voice evokes the grumbling of a he-toad which once lived in the marsh behind our family house in the country.

    "I cannot believe what this purple-hair woman has asked of me... Bank details bank statement... how much money.

    "Could it be possible another human being can simply ask over the counter, casually and with certainty of response, for intimate details of another person's life?"

Writers website

It is the second year in a row that the award has been won by a Kenyan.

The winner of 2002, Binyavanga Wainaina set up a website (Kwani) for new Kenyan writers, where Ms Owuor's story was first published.

The point of the prize is not however to pigeonhole authors as regional interest writers, but rather to put the spotlight on good writers who normally would not get much attention.

The Caine Prize was started by the late businessman Sir Michael Caine who ran the Booker prize for many years, and the prize defines an "African writer" as one born on the continent who addresses African issues.

On the short list this year were two South Africans, a Congolese and a Zimbabwean.

Ms Owuor was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and gained a BA in Linguistics in English & History from Jomo Kenyatta University.

She then attended the University of Reading in the UK, where she studied for an MA in TV/Video Development.

She has written a screenplay for the Africa Script Development Fund (Harare) and is currently an Executive Director of the Zanzibar International Film Festival.

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
"I thank the vision that created this opportunity"

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