Nigeria has more than its fair share of amazing authors and one-time Caine Prize winner and two-time Caine Prize nominee, Segun Afolabi ranks highly on that list even though he has not published as many books as his contemporaries have.
As a matter of fact, he was shocked when he was nominated for his Caine Prize win in 2005. He had not submitted any story and had no idea he was in the running for the prestigious prize. How awesome is that? No tension, just boom!
Born in 1966 in Kaduna, Nigeria, Segun Afolabi’s love for writing was spawned by a love for reading. He actually attended a Beginners Class for Writers and slowly increased his capacity until he was belting out short stories.
The son of a career diplomat, Segun spent his early years globe-trotting, from Lagos to the Congo, then to Canada, East Germany, and Indonesia, interspersed with visits back to Nigeria. He attended school in Plateau State for a year, and later attended the Corona School in Lagos. When he was nine , Segun was sent to school in England. He studied at Brighton College, and eventually graduated from the University of Wales, at University College, Cardiff, with a degree in Management Studies.
Segun once worked in a London bookshop, and concurrently attended creative writing classes at the City Literary Institute, where he was taught by poet and novelist Alison Fell. He has previously worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation, where he was a sub editor on “The Radio Times”, and as an assistant content producer for BBC digital radio.
Presently working full-time as an Editor may have interfered with the quantity of literary works to this author’s name, but it certainly hasn’t dampened the quality.
Asides from the Caine Prize winning story “Monday Morning”, first published in Wasafiri, issue 41, spring 2004, his bibliography includes,his first novel “Goodbye Lucille” published in 2007 and won the Authors’ Club First Novel Award. His first story collection is entitled A Life Elsewhere and was shortlisted for the 2006 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and longlisted for the 2006 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. His stories have been published in various literary journals including Granta, the London Magazine, Wasafiri and the Edinburgh Review.
While he may not be as well known as other authors in African literary circles, [he was once described as a critically neglected Nigerian migrant writer by the West Africa Review] Segun Afolabi is sure-fire proof that one does not need impressive writing pedigree to stand out and be counted. At the time he won the Caine Prize in 2005, he was the only unpublished author amongst the nominees, and did I mention that he had not even struggled to submit the award winning story, ‘Monday Morning?’
Back again for the second count as a Caine Prize 2015 nominee for his story, ‘The Folded Leaf’, alongside another two-time Caine Prize nominee, El-Nathan John [Nigeria], F.T Kola [South Africa], Masande Ntshanga [South Africa] and Mamwali Serpell [Zambia].
Segun was of the opinion that awards were unfair on the one hand because they heaped attention on one particular person while excluding a vast array of writing that was equally deserving, but on the other hand, that prizes help to focus attention on writing.
Have his views been swayed with the passing of the years?
Asides from a rare few, most writers have experienced rejection at some point or the other. In an interview with Pambazuka News, Segun described his take on rejection,
“I tend to think of rejection as an opportunity to examine the writing, refine it to another degree – another stage in the editing/revising process. But, honestly, rejection never gets any easier.”
Rejection may not get easier [I know!] but it didn’t stop him, and it doesn’t stop you either!