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Persistence Rewarded for Winners of Inaugural Burt Award in Kenya

By Geoff Burt, Literary Prizes Foundation

I recently had the great pleasure of travelling to Kenya with my wife Lauren to take part in the awarding of the inaugural Burt Award for African Literature in Nairobi on September 28. Reading the three winning titles, The Devil’s Hill by Ngumi Kibera (third), The Delegate by Edward Mwangi (second) and Never say Never, by Anthony Mugo (first), it’s clear that at the very least the Burt Award has resulted in some great new books.

The Burt Award always intended to accomplish more than just recognizing and rewarding the talents of the authors. It is not enough that the books are written – they need to be published, distributed to schools and libraries and taught by well-trained teachers. To do this took the ingenuity of CODE in designing the Burt Award program, ensuring the publication and guaranteeing the purchase of the books, as well as major contributions from CODE’s amazing local partners like the National Book Development Council on Kenya (NBDCK), whose Reading Kenya program is work

ing to ensure that teachers are trained to effectively teach and promote reading. After spending time with my host, Ruth Odondi, the CEO of the NBDCK, the members of the award’s jury committee, representatives from the publishing industry, and CODE’s supporters in the Canadian government and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), I came away very aware of and grateful for all of the work that our partners do to make the Burt Award a success.

One of the highlights of the evening was the donation of the winning titles to Windle Trust, an organization that supports education in Kenya’s refugee camps. I am sure the books they receive will be put to good use.

But the awards ceremony really belonged to the authors and their families. The awards were very richly deserved for a group of authors who have been working towards this for years. Each of the authors told me about the many unpublished manuscripts that they had written before. Even award-winning stories have gone unpublished. The winning author Anthony Mugo has been writing manuscripts for over 20 years. He wakes up at 4am to write and writes another two hours every night before going to sleep. The second runner up, Ngumi Kibera, told me that winning the award convinced him to try focusing full-time on being a writer. I would not be surprised if there is much more to come from each of the winners!