Kenyan author and poet Khadija Abdalla Bajaber has bagged the foundational Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction for her debut novel, The House of Rust.
The Ursula K. Le Guin Literary Trust and Graywolf Press made the announcement on Friday October 22, 2022 during a ceremony hosted virtually by actor and author Anthony Rapp.
The House of Rust was shortlisted back in July and centers around Aisha, a woman who travels with a talking pussy cat and a boat made of bones to rescue her fisherman father.
In their official announcement, jurors Adrienne Maree Brown, Luis Alberto Urrea, Molly Gloss, David Mitchell and Becky Chambers lauded Bajaber for her exceptional writing skills.
“Scene after scene is gleaming, textured, utterly devoid of cliché and arresting in its wisdom. The novel’s structure is audacious and its use of language is to die for,” said the jurors.
The other two finalists for the coveted Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction were Sequoia Nagamatsu for How High We Go in the Dark, and The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente.
In her acceptance speech during the virtual event, Bajaber, who was born and bred in Mombasa, narrated her admiration for Ursula Kroeber Le Guin and her storytelling prowess.
“The heart, craft, and humanity with which Ursula K. Le Guin approached the unfamiliar and the strange makes her one of the most beloved storytellers to readers and writers alike. It is my honor to see The House of Rust, published by Graywolf Press, recognized now by this prize,” said Bajaber.
She added: “I hope to use this prize to further my craft, to better myself as a person as well, and to investigate different ways of telling a story. And I hope that you will see more strange worlds from me, and more strange worlds from many different kinds of writers.”
The Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction is a yearly prize that sees a selected exceptional author of a single book-length work of imaginative fiction get a cash reward of Sh3 million.
The prize is meant to appreciate authors that Le Guin talked of in her 2014 National Book Awards speech as “realists of a larger reality, who can imagine real grounds for hope and see alternatives to how we live now.”
Bajaber launched The House of Rust, her debut novel, to a packed house and standing ovation at the Alliance Française in Mombasa on Thursday, November 25, 2021.
The young and fast-rising Kenyan writer and poet made a name for herself through her works that appeared in publications including Lolwe, A Long House and Down River Road.
She won the inaugural Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize (2018) that celebrated an author who mainly resided in Africa and would be published by Graywolf Press in English and bagged a Sh1.5 million cash advance.
Ursula Kroeber Le Guin was an American author best known for her speculative fiction works, including science fiction set in her Hainish universe, and the Earthsea fantasy series.
Le Guin was born in October 21, 1929 in Berkeley, California, US, and passed away on January 22, 2018 in Portland, Oregon, US, and was inducted into the Hall of fame in 2001.