Beyond empowering creative talents, the Etisalat Prize for Literature has also become a veritable platform for winners to earn more global acclaims. So, after the Etisalat Prize, what is next for Mujila? Apart from rewards the Etisalat Prize for Literature (EPL) bestows on winners, the long term benefits associated with the Prize, perhaps, serve as motivation for the participants of the prestigious award and possibly the raison d’être lovers of literature follow it intimately from the call for submission of entry stage to the grand finale of each edition. Held consecutively for the third year since 2013, the EPL is the first ever pan-African prize that celebrates first time African writers of published fiction books. Each year, the winner receives a £15,000 cash prize, an engraved Montblanc Meisterstück, a high-end device and the opportunity to attend the Etisalat Fellowship, worth £13,000, at the prestigious University of East Anglia, United Kingdom, under the mentorship of Giles Foden, a renowned professor of creative writing. The winner also undertakes book tours of three African cities.
The Prize serves as a platform for the discovery of new creative talents out of the continent and invariably promotes the burgeoning publishing industry in Africa. In addition to the monetary reward that the winner receives, Etisalat Nigeria purchases 1000 copies of each of the three shortlisted books for distribution to schools and libraries across the African continent. While it is no longer news that Fiston Mwanza Mujila was the winner of the 2015 for his first novel, Tram 83, what may be uppermost in his mind and indeed most of his admirers and lovers of literature would certainly be, ‘what next?’ for him. The 35-year-old Mujila from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had beaten two other debut writers, whose books also made the shortlist. They were South African female novelists – Penny Busetto, writer of The Story of Anna P, as Told by Herself and Rehana Rossouw, author of What Will People Say? As expected of any winner or champion in a contest, it is just natural to say that the ‘next big thing’ would be the most important thing for Mujila whose creative strength is still being celebrated across Africa and beyond. This is more so because the exploits of the two previous winners – NoViolet Bulawayo (2013) and Songeziwe Mahlangu (2014) – have served as great testimonials of the long term positive impact it can have on the career of the winners and others shortlisted for the prize.
For instance, NoViolet Bulawayo, winner of the inaugural edition of the Etisalat Prize for Literature 2013. After her debut novel, We Need New Names was picked as the winner from three shortlisted books, the Zimbabwean female writer has assumed global limelight, and the sphere of positive influence has grown continuously wider for her. The same year We Need New Names won her the Prize, the book was also shortlisted in the 2013 Man Booker Prize, making her the first black African woman and the first Zimbabwean to be shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Today, Bulawayo’s exploits have grown in leaps and bounds having won many more accolades including the prestigious Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award and Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University. She has also begun work on a memoir project while she sits on the Board of Trustees of the pan-African literary initiative, Writivism. South African novelist and winner of the 2014 Prize, Songeziwe Mahlangu, is also sharing the testimonials of his exploits after his book, Penumbra, won him the prize. He is currently working on his second novel. The young African writer, who currently lives in East London, also works at a large accountancy firm to underscore his capacity to do more. The exploits of Bulawayo and Mahlangu, without any doubt, have set the benchmark for Mujila. Analysts are not in doubt that Mujila is more than capable to raise the bar. The Man Booker International Prize recently revealed Tram 83 as part of the ‘Man Booker Dozen’ of 13 books in contention for the 2016 Prize.
His credentials speak volume. A scholar of repute, Mujila studied Literature and Human Sciences at Lubumbashi University and is pursuing a PhD in Romance Languages, in Graz, Austria where he currently lives. He has also won many accolades for his writing, including the Gold Medal at the 6th Jeux de la Francophone in Beirut as well as the Best Text for Theater (State Theatre, Mainz) in 2010. His works are a response to the socio-political turbulence of post-independence Congo. His winning book, Tram 83 is also the first novel by a DR Congo writer to be translated into English in over two decades. Originally written in French, Tram 83 was translated into English by Roland Glasser and published by Deep Vellum. As Mujila is celebrated and honoured back home in his native DRC, Africa and the world at large, his exploits remain salutary as the first Francophone writer to win the prestigious Prize. But while the sky appears to be Mujila’s stepping stone, as they say, it is not out of place to say that Africa and the world at large are awaiting the next big thing from this great African creative ambassador.