About the Prize

The Mabati Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature was founded by Mukoma Wa Ngugi and Lizzy Attree in 2014 to promote writing in African languages and encourage translation from, between and into African languages.  The Prize sets a historical precedent for African philanthropy by Africans and shows that African philanthropy can and should be at the center of African cultural production.

Over 140 million people speak Kiswahili in Eastern and Southern Africa. Kiswahili is also one of the official languages in Kenya and Tanzania. Through some of the most prolific African writers and poets writing in Kiswahili, such as Shaban Roberts and Ebrahim Hussein there is a large body of work in Kiswahili that has long been a staple language in leading research universities e.g. Nairobi University, Boston University and University of Wisconsin – Madison. In other words, Kiswahili is an established world language and should be considered as such.

Moving from the principle that all languages are created equal and no one language should thrive at the expense of the other, we are proposing that a Kiswahili Prize for Literature be established with the express goal of promoting reading and writing in African languages. Literary prizes highlight fresh talent, encourage authors and demonstrate that reading matters.

While there exists international literary prizes for African writing such as the Caine Prize and the recently established, Etisalat Prize, there are no major international and Pan-African literary prizes awarded to works produced in an African language. The Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature is a biannual award organized by the Kenya Publishers Association to recognize outstanding works published in Kenya in English and Kiswahili.

These facts alone make an international Kiswahili literary prize historical in nature, setting a precedent for other literature in African languages while making an important contribution to the body of world literature.

We are grateful for your support and patience as we embark on this language adventure.


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