Khadija Abdalla Bajaber is the first winner of the Graywolf Press Africa Prize

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Khadija Abdalla Bajaber

Graywolf Press is pleased to announce that Khadija Abdalla Bajaber has been selected as the first winner of the Graywolf Press Africa Prize, which is awarded for a first novel manuscript by an African author primarily residing in Africa. Bajaber’s manuscript, titled The House of Rust, was chosen from nearly 200 submissions by judge A. Igoni Barrett, author of the acclaimed novel Blackass, in conjunction with the Graywolf editors. Bajaber, who lives in Mombasa, Kenya, will receive a $12,000 advance. In addition, 66th&2nd will publish The House of Rust in Italy, a partnership that will continue with the Graywolf Press Africa Prize going forward.

Planned for publication in 2020, The House of Rust is the story of a young Mombasa-born girl who goes to the sea to search for her fisherman father, accompanied by a scholar’s cat. Bajaber blends the folk stories of post-independence Mombasa with a coming of age tale, as her protagonist faces the monsters ahead and the demons of her past. Bajaber’s magical realist debut explores selfishness and independence, family loyalty and individuality.

The House of Rust is an exhilarating journey into the imagination of an author for whom the fantastic is not only written about, it is performed on the page. Khadija Abdalla Bajaber has infused new life into the age-old story of adventure on the high seas—with this heroic first novel she has struck deep into that mythic realm explored by everyone from Homer to Hemingway,” said Barrett in his judge’s statement.  

“On the surface this is a limpid tale—a straightforward quest story—of a young Mombasa-born girl seeking her missing fisherman father, but it is eddied and enriched by what lurks beneath the surface of both the sea and the prose. Everything in this story sparkles: the fierceness of the narrative voice, the unimpeachable dramatic timing, the sumptuous imagery, the insightful characterization, the spirited wordplay, the honed wisdom of the dialogue, the bold imagination. Everywhere in this story is evidence of a mind that understands that we read not only to see other worlds or lives, but to feel them.”

“It’s an honour and a privilege to have had my work in the hands of such genuine lovers of literature and know that they felt a real emotional connection with what I wrote,” said Bajaber.  “Everyone at Graywolf has been so open and enthusiastic, and Mr. Barrett’s encouragement has meant the world to me.”

“Graywolf is a dream publisher, especially when it comes to introducing writing from the continent to different audiences,” Bajaber continued. “There is no doubt in my mind that there are many talented writers on the continent, discovered and undiscovered. I hope there are more opportunities ahead and just as importantly more access to them because so many writers could use these opportunities, if only they’d had the privilege of accessing them. I’m grateful that the world I built in the book resonated with someone, it further validates that there is a place for our stories and for our voices, in all their variations.”


KHADIJA ABDALLA BAJABER is a Mombasa-born poet and novelist with a degree in journalism. A Kenyan of Hadrami descent, she writes about the ill-documented history of the Hadrami diaspora. Her work has been published in Brainstorm Kenya and the Enkare Review, and she is the assistant poetry editor for the Panorama Travel Journal’s East African Issue. She lives in Mombasa, Kenya.