Petina Gappah named 2022 Booker prize judge

Petina Gappah
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Zimbabwean lawyer and writer, Petina Gappah was appointed one of the five-member panel of judges for the 2022 International Booker Prize.

The Booker Prizes exist to reward the finest in fiction, highlighting great books to readers. The International Booker Prize is awarded annually for a single book, translated into English and published in the United Kingdom or Ireland. The symmetrical relationship between the Booker Prize and the International Booker Prize ensures that the “Booker” honours fiction on a global basis.

“I’m thrilled to be one of the judges of the 2022 International Booker Prize. I look forward to meeting this brilliant panel, to immersive and intensive reading and to what I love most about shared reading: talking and arguing about books!” said Gappah in a statement

The panel is chaired by translator Frank Wynne and consists of author and academic Merve Emre; writer and lawyer Petina Gappah; TV presenter, writer and actor Mel Giedroyc; and translator and author Jeremy Tiang. This is the first time a translator has chaired the panel.

Gappah is currently the principal legal advisor to the Secretary-General of the African Continental Free Trade Area based in Accra, Ghana. As well as being an international trade lawyer, Petina is a novelist and playwright.

She is the author of two novels — Out of Darkness, Shining Light and The Book of Memory — and two short story collections: Rotten Row and An Elegy for Easterly.

Her work has been published in more than a dozen languages, including by The New Yorker and Der Spiegel. She is the recipient of the Chautauqua Prize, the McKitterick Prize, the Guardian First Book Award and Zimbabwe’s NAMA award.

The International Booker Prize, with its focus on the importance of translation and the £50 000 (US$69 000) prize split equally between author and translator, continues to build in global importance each year. This year, the shortlisted authors and translators will each receive £2 500 (US$3 500), increased from £1 000 (US$1 400) in previous years.

The 2022 judging panel will be looking for the best work of translated fiction, selected from entries published in the UK or Ireland between May 1, 2021, and April 30, 2022.

Meanwhile, Gappah has featured in a documentary film, My Zimbabwe, a new show by Al Jazeera TV that goes beyond the headlines into people’s homes, offices and inside their imaginations to figure out what makes Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe.

The show’s pilot episode features Gappah who, according to her own words, is lucky to do things she loves.

“… I’m a writer and an international trade lawyer, I am very lucky to be able to do two things that I love at the same level of intensity.”

She says she writes about “what it means to be Zimbabwean in recent times”.

“Last November a documentary film crew trailed me over 10 days as I visited the places and people in my beloved Harare that inspire my writing. We criss-crossed Harare in a dizzying whirl. It was proper manic, but I hope also magic …,” Gappah tweeted on July 4.

In the episode, Gappah discusses her new novel and speaks with enthusiasm about life and the challenges and rewards of being a Zimbabwean today.

“My Zimbabwe is greatly misunderstood, my Zimbabwe is full of hope, It’s full of broken and sad people, but it is also full of happy, industrious, resilient people. My Zimbabwe is a Zimbabwe of stories, and those are the type of stories I want to tell,” she explains in her first opening lines.

The film follows her busy schedule as she cuts across Harare’s different layers. She starts off by visiting the National Archives: “I love the archives because the kind of stories I write, are set in the past and because I’m a writer of realist fiction, I want my stories to reflect accurate facts for example accurate events.”

She goes vegetable shopping at Mbare Musika and also visits the streets, starting with Rotten Row, her favourite and George Silundika Avenue, among other places in the capital

She also goes to a craft fair and meeting up with friends and colleagues who are musicians, educators, writers and civil servants.

Petina is plugged into the intellectual undercurrent in her city, is busy with a new play in rehearsal, and is involved in an ongoing project to keep Harare’s central library functioning and relevant.

She discovered books when her family moved from the townships to the suburbs of Harare when she was nine years old and she became obsessed.

“I used to read and walk at the same time and once almost got knocked over by a car,” she says and has now has achieved success in both these roles as a writer and lawyer. As a writer, she wants to flip the script and tell the story of Africa from the African perspective.

Her passion for her work remains strong as she writes about Zimbabwe’s failings and injustices in the hope that in the face of darkness, change can be achieved. — Greedy South.