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Caine Prize for African writing won by Senegalese married couple

Senegalese writing duo Mame Bougouma Diene and Woppa Diallo have won the Caine prize for African writing with a story described by the judges as “tender and poetic”. This marks the first time a pair has won the award since it began in 2000, as well as the first time the prize has chosen a winner from Senegal.

Lawyer and activist Diallo’s experiences of gender-based violence in Senegal were the inspiration for A Soul of Small Places, which was first published by Tordotcom in 2022. French-Senegalese American humanitarian and short story writer Diene worked with her to create a fictional Woppa Diallo, who narrates her story against a backdrop of African cosmology in which spirits and humans coexist.

Diallo’s feminist activism began when she was just 15. At that age she founded L’Association pour le Maintien des Filles à l’Ecole (The Association for Keeping Girls in School) in Matam, Senegal. Her contribution to A Soul of Small Places was through ideas and experience: Diene, whose debut short story collection, Dark Moons Rising on a Starless Night, was nominated for the 2019 Splatterpunk award, physically wrote the story.

Diene and Diallo win a cash prize of £10,000, and will have their work featured in the 2023 Caine prize anthology, This Tangible Thing and Other Stories. Runners-up Yejide Kilanko, Tlotlo Tsamaase, Ekemini Pius, and Yvonne Kusiima will receive £500 and also feature in the anthology.

The Caine prize, which had a record-breaking 297 entries from 28 different countries this year, is awarded for a short story by an African writer published in English. Named in memory of former Booker prize management committee chair Sir Michael Harris Caine, the prize aims to bring African writing to a wider audience. Previous winners have included Idza Luhumyo, NoViolet Bulawayo and Irenosen Okojie.