The pains of being a Wahome Mutahi Literary Prize nominee.

ama ata

Ama Ata Aidoo

It has been a year since I was a nominee for the prize above. Allow me to take you through the mind of a nominee for the same.

When your name makes the shortlist you hit cloud nine. Holy moly, you’re in the papers! Congratulatory messages fly back and forth. You ask God for the fattest prize because, after all, you’re His favourite child. You’re tempted to buy a new suit on credit because you’ll soon be rich. As a nominee you are a step shy of winning. You are also a step shy of appearing on the seven o’clock news hence the new suit. If you had your way you would tag your clan along for the cheers.

As you interact with guests you learn that the issue of a fat or lean prize doesn’t arise because there is just one prize. But that is nothing to worry God’s favourite child. You just can’t help but pity the would-be losers. The poor souls! But what is anyone to do? This is Kenya and Kenyans don’t read so we can’t afford three prizes, not unless a donor saves the day. Again, if the spoils are shared among the nominees the prize won’t be as prestigious.

Then the moment of glory arrives, the ndo, ndo, ndo moment according to Pete Odeng’. And the winner is… well, not you dummy. Before you can absorb the shock you realize that you won’t even know whether you were runners up or first runners up. Your editor is suddenly sorry for you. He is sure you will win next time.

You are a thinker so you start dissecting the nightmare. If a jury comes up with a shortlist of three titles and proceeds to pick the overall winner does each title stand an equal chance of winning? Why three nominees if only one entry wins? Is the shortlist a ruse to create the illusion of competition? Are the two losers just meant to conceal the winner up to the ndo, ndo, ndo moment?

Why are you not home writing or watching Man U square it out with Leicester? You belch and you tell yourself; look here stupid, you are here to dine! But eating is over and if you need to drown your frustrations in beer you must foot the bill and PrideInn is way out of your league so you sneak out because that is what ‘losers’ do.

Would I be whining in case I won? Maybe not. But this is not about losing. If anything my title didn’t qualify. According to the chair of the judges children literature is not eligible for the prize. Having won the Burt Award Ask the Stars is essentially a Young Adult book. Don’t ask me what it was doing in the shortlist. This is about treating writers (or fellow mortals) with dignity. Ama Ata Aidoo was disgruntled by an extra ‘t’ in her name. Trust me, being treated like a pawn is far worse.

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