Namwali Serpell: Her first novel took fifteen years to write but this Zambian-born writer has won $175, 000 from two major awards one year later.

By Ebimo Amungo

It took Namwali Serpell fifteen years to complete her first novel, The Old Drift, but already the book has won two major awards worth $175, 000 only one year after its release in March, 2019.

So far this year, Namwali Serpell has been awarded one of the world’s most lucrative literary awards – Yale’s Windham Campbell Prizes 2020. The Old Drift also won the 2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in the Fiction category.

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Namwali Serpell’s short story “The Sack” had won the 2015 Caine Prize for African fiction in English, and in April 2014 she was named on the Hay Festival’s Africa39 list of 39 Sub-Saharan African writers aged under 40 with the potential and talent to define trends in African literature

The San Francisco Chronicle had described The Old Drift (Hogarth; 576 pages; $28), as “ a boldly sweeping epic that follows three families across generations and over the course of the founding of the country of Zambia.”  The book was on multiple lists as one of the most anticipated books of 2019, before it was released on  March 26, 2019.

Since then, the book has been  praised as “dazzling” by Salman Rushdie, short-listed for two Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, and long-listed for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, The Old Drift was also named one of the 100 Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times, one of the 100 Must-Read Books of the Year by Time, and a book of the year by The Atlantic, BuzzFeed, and National Public Radio.

 The Old Drift tells the story of three families—with people of African, European, and Indian descent—living in Zambia over the course of two hundred years. Part historical adventure, part psychological realism, part futuristic thriller, and part magical realism, the novel is an audacious, lush, sprawling, and altogether brilliant celebration of the artifice of fiction.

Who Namwali Serpell?  

Namwali Serpell is an associate professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley.  She  was born in 1980 in Lusaka, Zambia, to Robert Serpell and his wife. Her British-Zambian father is a professor of psychology at the University of Zambia, and her mother is an economist.When she was nine, her family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, in the United States.

Serpell was educated in the United States. She completed her undergraduate degree in literature at Yale and her doctorate (PhD) in American and British fiction at Harvard.

She is also the author of a book of literary criticism, Seven Modes of Uncertainty (2014), as well as the forthcoming essay collection Stranger Faces (2020).

After she won the Caine Prize for Short Namwali Serpell, annouced that she would share her prize money worth $15,000 with the other shortlisted writers, since according to her “fiction is not a competitive sport”

Yale’s Windham Campbell Prizes 2020.

Namwali Serpell is one of the eight recipients of the annual prize this year.

The rest of the recipients are; in fiction, Yiyun Lee (the United States/China) alongside Serpell; in nonfiction, Maria Tumarkin (Australia) and Anne Boyer (United States); in poetry, Bhanu Kapil (United Kingdom/India) and Jonah Mixon-Webster (United States); and in drama, Julia Cho (United States) and Aleshea Harris (United States).

Serpell and her fellow winners will receive $165,000 each to support their work.

The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards 2020.

The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, presented by the Cleveland Foundation, is the only juried prize American literary award dedicated to honoring written works that make important contributions to the understanding of racism and the appreciation of the rich diversity of human culture.

This year’s Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards winners are;  Eric Foner, Lifetime Achievement; Ilya Kaminsky, “Deaf Republic,” Poetry; Charles King, “Gods of the Upper Air,” Nonfiction; Namwali Serpell, “The Old Drift,” Fiction

Award recipients traditionally receive $10,000 from the AnisfieldWolf fundWinners are required to participate in media interviews and publicity opportunities in conjunction with the prize. Publishers are encouraged to congratulate their winners in advertisements and via social media.