Celebrated award-winning Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, has emerged as the public’s favorite winner of the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Her critically acclaimed book, Half of a Yellow Sun, first won the prestigious Women’s Prize for Fiction award in 2007. After 13 years, the novel has been voted “winner of winners” of the same award through a public vote. The “Winner of Winners” is a one-off award to mark the 25th anniversary of the Women’s Prize, organizers said.
The Women’s Prize was formerly known as The Orange Prize and the Bailey’s prize. Out of the 25 winners since the inception of the awards, Adichie beat prolific writers and past winners including Lionel Shriver, Maggie O’Farrell and Rose Tremain to win the anniversary award of the prize.
Over 8,500 people voted for Half of a Yellow Sun, thirteen years after it first won the Women’s Prize for Fiction. They shared their thoughts on the digital book club of the prize where they had access to author interviews and other newly curated online reading guides.
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In 2007, a then 29-year-old Adichie did not know her second novel will win the prize and make her a household name. One of the judges at the time, Muriel Gray, described Half of a Yellow Sun as “astonishing, not just in the skilful subject matter, but in the brilliance of its accessibility”.
Adichie has received a silver edition of the prize’s annual statuette, known as the Bessie.
“I’m especially moved to be voted Winner of Winners because this is the prize that first brought a wide readership to my work – and has also introduced me to the work of many talented writers,” Adichie said about her win.
The critically acclaimed novel was set in Nigeria in the 1960s during the Biafran war and the lives of the characters it affected. It explores colonialism, ethnic allegiances, class, race, and female empowerment in ways that is truly relatable and relevant even today.
The Biafran war started after an attempted coup by the Igbos shortly after Nigeria gained independence from the British in 1960. The war, though short, had devastating effects on many Nigerians and caused one of the worst famines to ever hit the West African nation.
Adichie was born seven years after the war ended, however, her family was affected by it. She, therefore, uses her experience and that of many to tell the story of the war while touching on themes such as love, friendship, betrayal and loyalty through her three principal characters.
She beautifully narrates the effects of the war, the human conflict that erupts and how people cope when their survival instincts are tested.
The UK-based Women’s Prize was founded in 1995 by Kate Mosse who took charge to establish an award scheme to honor women writers after the judges of the 1991 Booker did not shortlist any woman that year. The founder congratulated Adichie for the win and was “thrilled” that she had won an award that was intended to show that “great books live beyond their time”.
“One of the things that’s so fantastic about Chimamanda being the winner of winners is that a lot of younger readers are now coming to that novel, who probably didn’t read it when it came out. It’s felt like a really celebratory thing to be doing over this very strange year,” said Mosse.
“Our aim has always been to promote and celebrate the classics of tomorrow today and to build a library of exceptional, diverse, outstanding international fiction written by women,” she said.
The Women’s Prize is not a rebellion as some choose to describe it. Mosse said there was a problem honoring women writers and the award is a way of telling them to “try these amazing books” by people who happen to be women because “we need to celebrate women’s voices and diverse voices from all over the world.”