Mali Kambandu wins inaugural Kalemba prize

Mali Kambandu

Mali Kambandu has won the inaugural Kalemba Short Story Prize for her short story, described as “gripping and beautifully told’ by Judges.

The $1000 award is for the best work of original and unpublished short fiction written in English.

Kambandu, won for The hand to hold, which can be downloaded here. The story centers around a middle class family whose fragile bond is threatened by the resurfacing of their former house maid. It weaves the themes of class, loyalty, sacrifice and love in contemporary Zambia.
“She looks around the table and can barely remember a happy moment with these women who are helping her plan the happiest moments in her life.” She writes “Family meals are virtually non-existent, but the dining table is the centre of their home”.

A graduate of Huntingdon College, Pennsylvania, Kambandu was exposed to literature from an early age “My parents bought us many books – classics and pop culture novels – and encouraged me, my brother and three sisters to read” she said. “At a young age, I read books which my older sisters were reading – novels by Alice Walker and Toni Morrison”. But it was at high school where she read her most cherished book, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Winning the prize, she said, is an honour and affirmation. “The fact that it’s a Zambian award makes it so much more meaningful” said Kambandu, who will be presented with the award at a special ceremony to be held in Lusaka next month.

Kambandu’s story beat five others to win the prize including by prolific and award winning writer Peter Nawa, A degree of Alone,17year old Sampa Musaba’s The Mango Tree and Kabwe based Andrew Nguvu’s God of the mind. Others are The legacy of Moombe by Mutinta Nanchengwa (happy birthday) and A broken road in Utopia by Livingstone based writer Chanda Chongo. A total of 317 stories competed for the 2018 Kalemba Prize.

The judging panel, chaired by Kenyan novelist and Assistant Professor of English at Cornell University, Mukoma Wa Ngugi, described the story as “a dark, yet gripping read, a surprising, beautifully told story that centers the voices that we often think of as living on the margins” said the judges “We were moved by this story about domestic workers and the ties that bind them to the very same families that discard them. Ngugi was joined on the panel by award winning Zambian writer Namwali Serpell – winner of the 2015 Caine Prize for African Writing; blogger, scholar and founder of the influential Ainehi Edoro and the inimitable Mulenga Kapwepwe, Zambian writer and cultural icon.

Kambandu had a stint writing screenplays in the US before returning to Zambia a few years ago. She has written short films, documentaries and feature films, including Ulendo wa Rose, Old-time Love, Long-time Love and The President’s Job Description.

She works and lives in Lusaka with her husband, two kids, two dogs, toys and plenty of books. When not writing, she is reading stories to her children.

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 2019 Kalemba Prize will open later in the year.

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