LUSAKA, ZAMBIA – Rhodasi Mwale has been announced as the winner of the 2020 Kalemba Short Story Prize for her short story, described as “quirky” by Judges.
The USD1000 award is for the best work of original and unpublished short fiction written in English.
Mwale won for If It Ain’t Broke. The story revolves around a protagonist struggling with depression and mental problems.
“Dr Theo assured me, in a stern, noncommittal tone, that the world wasn’t out to get me and that my children weren’t monsters sent to torment me,” she writes. “He scribbled a prescription and shuffled me out of his offices as fast as he could that I felt rejected. Had it come to this? Even a man I paid to listen wasn’t interested anymore. It was time to find a new doctor.”
A Biomedical Scientist and student of infectious diseases at the University of Zambia, Mwale, 31, remembers fondly “curling up on a bean bag in the library, in Grade 3, reading illustrated volumes of the Adventures of Tintin. In Grade 5, I read Eleanor Hoffman’s Mischief in Fez, and it has stayed with me since.”
On winning the prize, “just being shortlisted is everything because it means that I do belong on the African market. There is such a profundity to African literature that I’ve always felt that my voice is a tad too informal, my prose too simplistic for the market.”
A native of Kabwe Town, Mwale will be presented with the award at a special ceremony to be held in Lusaka in October.
Her story beat five others to win the prize including, Chowa Chikumbi, A Silent Cry; Vanessa Nakayange, I’ll Keep You Safe; Samuel Zimba, Junta or Divorce; Mukuka Nkunde, Daze and Otensia Kapinga’s After the Storm.
A total of 231 stories competed for the 2020 Kalemba Prize, now in its third edition.
The judging panel, chaired by acclaimed and award-winning Zambian novelist (Patchwork), Ellen Banda-Aaku observed that the stories that ended up in the top six were heartbreaking and poignant in different ways; a disgruntled housewife takes the opportunity to go back and change her life; a drunk husband opts to stay with a cheating wife as an excuse to stay drunk; a young woman’s father sides with her after she commits murder; a woman finds the courage to stand up to an abusive husband; rain churns up painful memories, and a mother covers up her daughters’ abuse to save the family.
“These top six stood apart in that they showed something more; a flair in writing, a fresh voice, emotiveness, an unusual twist,” said Banda-Aaku.
“If It Ain’t Broke was a clear winner. In this quirky written story, the narrator draws the reader in from the start with a fresh, honest voice about the state of their mind and life,” said the judges. “The mentally depressed protagonist is in a situation we have all been in at some point – the state of being discontented with our lives. The moral of the story is one most of us are aware of but perhaps need a reminder.”
Banda was joined on the panel by award-winning South African writer, Masande Ntshanga (Triangulum, The Reactive) – winner of the 2013 PEN International New Voices Award and a finalist for the 2015 Caine Prize; the youthful Rwandan-Namibian author, Remey Nagmidje, (The Eternal Voice of One) and Mali Kambandu, winner of the inaugural 2018 Kalemba Prize for her story, A hand to hold
Mwale, who also writes under the name, Dhasi Mwale, has several fictions coming up including her debut novel, Note Worthy by Belonging Books. Other works are scheduled to appear in The Scarlet Leaf Review and Bewildering Stories.
An alumnus of Highbridge Secondary School, Kabwe, Mwale names Paul Cohelo as one of her major literary influences.
The Kalemba Prize is a home-grown initiative celebrating Zambian writing. It is funded and administered by Ukusefya WORDS, publishers of the national bestselling book, Insoselo na Mapinda.
The 2021 Kalemba Prize will open later in the year.