Akwaeke Emezi, who identifies as neither male or female, is up for a Women's prize for fiction
Two Nigerians have found their way into the longlist of one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the UK and one of them is Akwaeke Emezi, a non-binary author.
After receiving a total of 163 entries, The Women's Prize announce their 2019 longlist of 16 books written by women from all over the world who approach different themes that concern femininity and related topics.
In the announcement, Professor Kate Williams, Chair of Judges said, "Each of them have been a privilege to read," she says, "They have taken us into places a million miles from each other, exploring the lives of women and men in so many different but utterly compelling ways."
The longlist includes an interesting surprise, however, with Akwaeke Emezi's nomination. This is the first time ever in the awards' history that a non-binary author will be nominated in the Women's prize.
Akwaeke Emezi is an Igbo and Tamil writer and video artist based in liminal spaces but lives in Brooklyn. Their* debut novel Freshwater (Grove Atlantic, 2018) has been listed as a most anticipated book by Esquire, The Rumpus, Elle, Bustle, and Book Riot, among others.
Freshwater explores Igbo spirituality as a foreign and familiar concept and a narrative that delves into identity, mental illness and the multiple realities we inhabit. It is a journey into and through selves and Igbo cultures.
Akwaeke's novel, Freshwater, has received praise from many authors alike, including Taiye Selasi, who says, "...I cannot heap enough praise upon Freshwater, a daring, sexy debut. Raw and lyrical, Akwaeke Emezi’s semi-autobiographical narrative takes on sexuality, spirituality, family and more — all with a clarity that belies her 30 years."
With all the acclaim, it is therefore no surprise that Freshwater is nominated for such a prestigious prize. What comes as a shock is the somewhat misplaced identification.
However, it seems Akwaeke is fine with the honour. According to The Guardian, the judges were not aware of Emezi’s gender identity when they selected Freshwater, but they did check that the author was happy to be longlisted before the announcement.
Emezi has previously said that they* don't need to be understood. Though it seems like there should be a need for more humans to understand nonhuman realities, Emezi is of the opinion that a mission to be understood is "both futile and a set-up".
"My work is more of a signal to those who need the possibility of other realities opened or confirmed so that *they* can find room to exist," Emezi said during a Tweet chat.
Also on the longlist, is Oyinkan Braithwaite's debut, My Sister, the Serial Killer, a thriller that is taking the Nigerian literati scene by storm.
See the complete longlist below:
- Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
- My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
- The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
- Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton
- The Pisces by Melissa Broder
- Milkman by Anna Burns
- Ordinary People by Diana Evans
- Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott
- An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
- Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lilian Li
- Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn
- Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
- Praise Songs for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden
- Circe by Madeline Miller
- Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
- Normal People by Sally Rooney
The shortlist for the prize will be announced on April 29 and the winner on June 5 at an awards ceremony in London with the winner receiving a cheque for £30,000.
*Akwaeke identifies as neither male or female, and uses the pronoun 'they'.
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