WASHINGTON — Zimbabwean novelist NoViolet Bulawayo won the 2014 Zora Neale Hurston/ Richard Wright Legacy Award for fiction for We Need New Names.
Her debut novel inspired by Zimbabwe’s “lost decade,” tells an “unflinching story” of a girl named Darling and her friends who steal guavas while living in a shanty called Paradise and reminiscing of the “proper houses with real rooms and furniture they used to have.”
They dream of travelling to “real paradises” — perhaps Europe or Dubai or America.
The Hurston/Wright Legacy Award judges described Bulawayo’s novel as a story of two continents.
“It felt like an imperative read,” said Marita Golden, a novelist and co-founder and president emeritus of the Hurston/Wright Foundation, which honoured black writers during a gala last Friday at the Carnegie Library in North-west Washington.
“The judges said, ‘We see NoViolet’s great characters, their entrapments, their miseries, their hungers and we also see ourselves.”
The Hurston/Wright 2014 award for non-fiction went to Craig Steven Wilder for Ebony&Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities.
In Ebony&Ivy, Wilder, a history professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, writes that before the American Revolution, merchants and planters became benefactors and “new masters” of a colonial society.
The Zora Neale Hurston/ Richard Wright Foundation, which is based in Washington, was founded in 1990 with a mission to ensure the survival of black writers and literature by black writers.
Golden, a novelist who has published several books, including: Don’t Play in the Sun; Saving Our Sons; Long Distance Life and Migrations of the Heart, said the foundation celebrates black writers and writers in the African diaspora.
The foundation, which helps writers find their voice and craft stories in programmes and writing workshops, will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year.
The hall of the Carnegie Library was packed Friday with publishing giants, powerhouse writers, editors, poets and top names in the literary industry, including Nate Marshall, Dana Williams, Tracy Sherrod, Kyle Dargan, Clarence Page, Darlene Taylor and Dolen Perkins-Valdez.
Perkins-Valdez, who wrote the New York Times best-selling novel Wench presented the Hurston/Wright 2014 award for fiction.
Perkins-Valdez said when she read the opening passages of Bulawayo’s novel, she did not want to put it down.
“NoViolet has written a novel that is both pressing and pristine,” Perkins-Valdez said. “Her sentences are crystalised and sparkle like glass.”
Perkins-Valdez read the opening passage of the novel, which was short-listed for the 2013 Man Booker Prize: “We are on our way to Budapest: Bastard and Chipo and Godknows and Sbho and Stina and me.
“We are going even though we are not allowed to cross Mzilikazi Road, even though Bastard is supposed to be watching his little sister Fraction, even though Mother would kill me dead if she found out; we are just going. There are guavas to steal in Budapest, and right now I’d rather die for guavas. We didn’t eat this morning and my stomach feels like somebody just took a shovel and dug everything out.”
Accepting the award, Bulawayo stood on stage in brilliant yellow. “It is such a great privilege to be nominated for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award for fiction and to be nominated along with a fine list of writers with many accomplishments,” said Bulawayo, who won a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.
“I accept this award with gratitude and in celebration of the luminous lives and the works of Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright, for being the bright beacons who created so we could write today with gratitude and dignity.”
The Tsholotsho-born author also won the inaugural Etisalat Prize for Literature this years for the book.
— Washington Post