Liberian Author Hawa Jande Golakai has emerged as one of the four joint winners of the prestigious Morland Writing Scholarships for her work Spectral.
Ms. Golakai, a speculative fiction author and a professional medical immunologist, is the first and only Liberian to win the Morland scholarship prize since its inception in 2013.
Ms. Golakai and her co-winners, Gloria M. Odari, Parselelo Kantai, and Nnamdi Oguike will each receive a grant of €18,000 to allow them to take a year off to finish the Spectral novel.
“Spectral is a terrifying examination of the tensions between freedom and social order. It will have speculative fiction themes: fantasy, science fiction, horror, magical realism. I love mixing science with fantastical and unknown,” Ms. Golakai said about the upcoming book.
The pitch project of Ms. Golakai, one of the 7,000 stories submitted for this year’s Morland Award, is speculative fiction of dazzling fantasy depicting a tightly controlled underwater glass city in a futuristic mecca for black people in West Africa.
“I have been writing since, and it is a highly emotional process. Starting a book makes me edgy, wondering if have done enough plotting, and research. This time I feel electrified and confident – thanks to age and maturity. Writing always comes with surprises, but now I’m better at mastering myself,” she said about her win.
According to information on the Miles Morland Foundation website, the awards are based on submissions which include a book proposal and an excerpt of published writing.
Morland added the scholarship aims to give writers of both fiction and non-fiction the financial freedom to complete an English-language book.
Miles Morland, the brainchild of the awards, describes this year’s winners as a brilliant group of people whose proposed books have challenging themes very much in tune with the current world.
Mr. Morland said: “I’m happy that all four are living in Africa, not the diaspora, and will be writing books about Africa. Every one of the shortlist of twenty was discussed in depth before they made their decision. We are lucky to have three judges who are so closely in touch with African writing.
In remarks also, the awards Chief Judge Muthoni Garland said winners of the 2019 Scholarships impressed them with their ambitious and confident exploration of some key themes troubling and shaping the continent of Africa.
“Varied in approach and style, they include a grand social history, a futuristic epic, an immigrant story, and a nuanced family portrait,” he said. “What they promise in common is persuasive storytelling, coherent world-building and insightful characters,” Garland added.
Golakai’s author career
Ms. Golakai’s first novel, The Lazarus Effect (Kwela Books), was published in 2016 by Cassava Republic Press in the UK and was shortlisted for the 2011 Sunday Times Fiction Prize and the University of Johannesburg Debut Prize. The novel and was longlisted for the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. On the strength of the book, in 2012 Zukiswa Wanner in The Guardian rated Golakai as one of the “top five African writers”.
It received the nomination for the prestigious Wole Soyinka African fiction award and South Africa’s Sunday Times prize.
The Lazarus Effect tells the story of Vee Johnson, an investigative journalist working in Cape Town who becomes obsessed with the disappearance of a young woman.
Her search leads her into a world haunted by hallucinations, forcing her to relive the traumas she experienced during the Liberian civil war. In 2014, Golakai became an Africa 39 laureate – one of the top 39 writers under 40 and the only Liberian.
The Lazarus Effect tells the story of Vee Johnson, an investigative journalist working in Cape Town who becomes obsessed with the disappearance of a young woman. Her search leads her into a world haunted by hallucinations, forcing her to relive the traumas she experienced during the Liberian civil war.
In 2014, Golakai became an Africa39 laureate – one of the top 39 writers under age 40 and the only Liberian. Two years later in 2016, she won the Brittle Paper Award for nonfiction for the article “Fugee”—which was about the Ebola epidemic that terrorized Liberia. And in 2018, she was also longlisted for the NOMMO Awards for the story Lee-ah (Sister).
“My career has been colourful and blessed. I’ve been writing since age 8 or 9 – I love my calling. I’m also a medical immunologist by profession; I’ve seen some crazy stuff as a scientist which gives me plenty of inspiration! I encourage young Liberians to experiment with writing as a form of self-expression. It truly feeds your soul and creativity,” she added.