The Kenyan winner of the prestigious Caine Prize for African Writing has told the BBC she will donate half of her £10,000 ($13,000) winnings to help rehabilitate street children.
“With the rest of the money I’ll buy a car or maybe a motorcycle to get through traffic jams in Nairobi,” Makena Onjerika said.
Her winning story follows a Kenyan street child named Meri.
The judges praised its lack of sentimentality and haunting humour.
Onjerika said she was surprised to win and had in fact betted against herself being awarded the prize, given annually to an African writer of a short story published in English.
Her story Fanta Blackcurrant was chosen from a shortlist of five.
Onjerika, a graduate of the MFA Creative Writing programme at New York University, said she chose to write about street children as “Kenyans – me included – do not see street kids as children.
“There are children, and then there are ‘chokora’,” she added, explaining the derogatory Swahili term used by Kenyans which translates as “street urchins”.
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The children depicted in Fanta Blackcurrant manage to make a living in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, using their natural intelligence and charisma.
Meri’s one dream is to have “a big Fanta Blackcurrant for her to drink every day and it never finish”.
She later becomes a sex worker and gets pregnant.
After developing a talent for stealing from successful businesswomen, she is violently beaten by local criminals which she survives, later crossing a river – the story ending with the words “and then we do not know where she went”.
Unlike the other children in the story who crave “community and acceptance,” Onjerika told the BBC that Fanta Blackcurrant’s central character “just wants sweetness” for her life.
Kenyan author Makena Onjerika to give Caine Prize winnings to street children