KIPROP KIMUTAI WINS THE GRAYWOLF PRESS AFRICAN FICTION PRIZE FOR THE FREEDOM OF BIRDS
December 11, 2023—Graywolf Press is pleased to announce that Kiprop Kimutai is the third winner of the Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize. Kimutai’s manuscript, titled The Freedom of Birds, was chosen by judge Tsitsi Dangarembga, author of the Booker Prize short-listed novel This Mournable Body and the essay collection Black and Female, in conjunction with the Graywolf editors. Kimutai, who lives in Kenya, will receive a $12,000 advance and publication by Graywolf Press.
The Freedom of Birds is the resonant story of a Kenyan family. It follows Bulei, a young man, and his mother, Ferono. Having lost his job and his boyfriend, Bulei’s life in Nairobi disintegrates, and he decides to return to his rural hometown of Tolosio. He’s acutely aware of the dangers that await him there, but, inspired by a beguiling and self-possessed stranger he befriends on his way home—a man named Ahithophel—he wonders if there isn’t a way for him to take up his deceased father’s legacy and reclaim his homeplace. Ferono, on her own path of self-definition and securing a livelihood, also finds herself changed by Ahithophel’s presence, and by the new man she sees her son becoming.
Dangarembga called The Freedom of Birds “epic in scope and intimate in detail,” and added, “The Freedom of Birds is a compassionate and beautiful novel about a family coping with its history and the harsh environment of a rural Kenyan community not often narrated in the country's literature. I am stunned by Kiprop Kimutai’s bravery and restraint.”
Graywolf publisher Carmen Giménez said, “We couldn’t be more excited to publish Kiprop Kimutai’s wonderfully sensitive novel. The African Fiction Prize has become integral to Graywolf Press, and we’re so proud to be the publisher of the incredible books that have come to us through the prize.” Associate Editor Anni Liu, who administers the prize with Graywolf editors, added, “It has been such an honor for us to work with prize judge Tsitsi Dangarembga, a literary icon, and we’re so grateful to her for reading our list of finalists with such generosity and insight.”
“I admire and applaud Graywolf Press for publishing global literatures, most notably Binyavanga’s memoir, One Day I Will Write About This Place, which showed me how a Kenyan experience could matter on the page,” Kimutai said. “I am excited to be awarded the 2023 African Fiction Prize, not only for myself, but also because another Kenyan story, another Kenyan perspective, will now have the chance to be published and read by the rest of the world. Thank you so much Tsitsi Dangarembga and the editors at Graywolf Press for honoring my work.”
The Graywolf Press African Fiction Prize is awarded to a first novel manuscript by an African author primarily residing in Africa. The previous winners of this prize are Noor Naga’s If an Egyptian Cannot Speak English, winner of the 2022 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and Khadija Abdalla Bajaber’s The House of Rust, winner of the 2022 Ursula K. LeGuin Prize for Fiction.
Kiprop Kimutai is a Kenyan writer whose fiction has appeared in No Tokens, the Johannesburg Review of Books, Kwani? Trust, the Evergreen Review and Jalada Africa. He is a 2023 Miles Morland scholar and was a finalist for the 2018 Gerald Kraak award.
The Freedom of Birds is planned for publication in winter 2026.
The runner-up for this year’s prize is The Couscous Western by Fayssal Bensalah. Dangarembga said, “The Couscous Western portrays its protagonist with zest, sensitivity, and skill. The imagery is original and vivid. Bensalah tells his story with delicious irony that is often hilarious.”
In addition to The Couscous Western, the following manuscripts were shortlisted for the prize:
Junx by Tshidiso Moletsane
The Body Thief by Tebello Qhotsokoane
An Orgasm by Lord Lugard by Ayotola Tehingbola
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