About the Award
Established in 1979, the Noma Award is open to African writers and scholars whose work is published in Africa. The US$10,000 prize is given annually for an outstanding new book in any of these three categories: (i) scholarly or academic, (ii) books for children, and (iii) literature and creative writing. Books are admissable in any of the languages of Africa, both local and European.
The sponsors of the Award are Kodansha Ltd. Japan. The Noma Award Trust is a UK-registered charity, and is responsible for the Award. The Trustees are Mary Jay, Kiyoshi Murakami and Kaye Whiteman. The Jury is appointed by the Trust. The Award is administered from a secretariat in Oxford, UK.
The Jury meets annually to select the prizewinner and proceeds by a system of elimination, and with the help of independent outside opinion and assessments secured from subject specialists. A pool of some 300 assessors and subject authorities is drawn upon from throughout the world, particularly in Africa.
An original work first published in Africa is selected each year as the Winner. Occasionally, there have been joint winners. In order to recognise the merits of other deserving titles, the Jury also singles out books for "Special Commendation" and/or "Honourable Mention". Books which are not strictly eligible for the Award, but are exceptionally outstanding are also occasionally cited for "Special Commendation".
The Noma Award is presented at a special ceremony each year, usually held in Africa, and traditionally linked with a book promotion event such as a book fair. The Noma Award has been honoured by distinguished Africans making the presentation. In addition to the prize money given to the Award winner, both the winner and the Award-winning publisher also receive a special commemorative plaque.
The status of the Award
The first Award, in 1980, was to Mariama Bā for Une si longue lettre (later translated into English under the title
So long a letter). The Award caused a lot of excitement - this was entirely new book award, meant not just for African authors but for works actually published in Africa, under an African imprint, and thus providing encouragement to indigenous African publishers. That first Award went to a woman writer, which in itself drew attention to the Award. The work for which she was selected was in all respects a remarkable one: a striking novel, elegantly written, and concerned not simply with the female condition in Africa, but more broadly with the difficult adjustment which individuals often have to make in a continent undergoing an intense process of rapid and profound social and cultural change.
The novel has since acquired the status of a classic of modern African literature. The Award did not bring the novel into the world, but it drew attention to its merits and gave it immediate international exposure, and helped to give it its present eminent place in the African literary canon. It has been translated into 18 languages, including Swahili, the largest language group in Africa. Thus with the very first selection, the Noma Award found its mission: to promote writing and publishing in Africa and give a voice to the continent from within, reversing the trend which made African expression dependent outside judgement and interests.
The Noma Award has since gone on to become the most significant book prize in Africa, and attracts around a hundred entries every year from throughout the continent. The Award has over the years been made to books in all the eligible categories, and in African and European languages. The winning titles, together with the books selected as worthy of "Special Commendation" or "Honourable Mention", present a remarkable picture of the intellectual vigour of the continent, and the strength and vitality of publishing in Africa, despite the adverse conditions in which writers and publishers too often work.
The Noma Award enjoys a high reputation for the quality of the works it has crowned, and the substantive success it has achieved in the promotion of African publishing. With the benefit of its generous endowment, distinguished Jury, and sound management, the Award enters the 21st. Century with its remit confirmed to continue to contribute to the growth and independence of African writing and publishing.