Aminatta Forna wins 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize

British-Sierra Leonean writer Aminatta Forna has won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize  for her novel The Memory of Love, a tale of war and its legacy set in West Africa.

The winners were announced today (May 21) at the award presentation in Sydney.

The judges praised The Memory of Love for “its risk taking, elegance and breadth,” describing it as “a poignant story about friendship, betrayal, obsession and second chances” and “an immensely powerful portrayal of human resilience.”

“Forna has produced a bold, deeply moving and accomplished novel which confirms her place among the most talented writers in literature today,” they added.

Forna said the prize “means very many things to me, but mostly that Sierra Leone has one of its first literary prizes. We have had a struggle in the past 10 or 15 years and I just hope I have made them proud.” She was awarded the top prize of £10,000.

Craig Cliff of New Zealand won the Best First Book prize for his short-story collection A Man Melting. The judges hailed it as a “highly entertaining and thought provoking collection” that displays “ambition, creativity and craftsmanship.” They added: “The eighteen short stories are truly insightful and amplify many of the absurdities around us, reflecting our own expectations, fears and paranoia on the big questions in life … Cliff is a talent to watch and set to take the literary world by storm.” Cliff came away with an award of £5,000.

Aminatta Forna was born in Glasgow, Scotland and raised in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Her first book, The Devil that Danced on the Water, was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2003. Her novel Ancestor Stones was winner of the 2008 Hurston Wright Legacy Award, the Literaturpreis in Germany, was nominated for the International IMPAC Award and selected by the Washington Post as one of the most important books of 2006. Forna lives in London.

Craig Cliff was born in Palmerston North, New Zealand. A graduate of Victoria University’s MA in creative writing, his short stories and poetry have been published in New Zealand and Australia. His short story ‘Another Language’ won the novice section of the 2007 BNZ Katherine Mansfield Awards. Craig lives in Wellington, New Zealand.

Chair of the judging panel, Nicholas Hasluck said: “This year’s winning books demonstrate the irreducible power of the written word at a time of rapid global change and uncertainty. The standard of entries this year has been exceptional, showcasing work with strong insight, spirit and voice introducing readers to unfamiliar worlds.”

The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize is one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards, presented annually by the Commonwealth Foundation with the support of the Macquarie Group Foundation. Each year, prizes for Best Book and Best First Book are awarded in four regions: Africa, Caribbean and Canada, South Asia and Europe and South East Asia and Pacific. Eight regional winners then compete for the pan-Commonwealth Best Book and Best First Book prizes, of £10,000 and £5,000, awarded at a public programme held in a different Commonwealth country each year.

Almost 200 books have now been recognised with prizes since the scheme was launched in 1987.

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