Algeria’s Fayssal Bensalah wins Toyin Falola Prize

by Araayo Akande

Algerian writer, Fayssal Bensalah, has emerged winner of the Toyin Fálọlá Prize 2020 at this year’s Ake Festival.

Bensalah, also a PhD student at the School of English, Communication and Philosophy and the School of Modern Languages, Cardiff University, won the prize instituted by Lunari in honour of eminent African scholar and foremost historian, Professor Toyin Fálọlá with his entry, ‘The Last Shot of Ahmed Bey’s Cannon’.

He gets a $1,000 cash prize and a fully-funded trip to attend the BIGSAS Festival of African and African-Diasporic Literature in Bayreuth, Germany for his effort.

Explaining Bensalah’s emergence as the winner at the Ake Festival, Tolulope Oke of Lunaris said, “Of the final three stories we had to consider for the winner, two competed for the prize. They showed a great understanding of character development and how to work with and move the plot in unexpected ways. They also revealed a practised hand at crafting lean, concise, and sparkling sentences, as well as an impressive use of dialogue. However, what “The Last Shot of Ahmed Bey’s Cannon” had going for it that stood it above it competition is that element that you can’t define: the wow factor.

“It was the story that showed the most promise; that stayed with the readers and judges the most, and that left you amazed and guessing at its twists and turns. It was unpredictable, deeply historical without trying to be, and it could wrestle your thoughts for attention long after you have read it. Like one of the readers said, what a cannonball of a story.”

‘The Last Shot of Ahmed Bey’s Cannon’ examines a middle-aged academic’s return to Algeria after many years living and working in France, posing the pursuit of a youthful fantasy against the realities of home.

Writers Mukoma Wa Ngugi and Abimbola Adelakun were the judges of the prize that celebrates Prof Falola’s contributions to African history and culture, particularly the advancement of African cultures, peoples, myths, and histories.

The call for entries was made in November 2019 while the long list of 24 short stories was announced in September. The shortlist of eight was unveiled on October 13 while the Ake Festival happened virtually from October 22 to 26.

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