Namwali Serpell reimagines the transmission of modern history through the commingled lives of her Zambian characters, writing unerringly sure prose and re-enchanting the contemporary novel in the process.
Namwali Serpell is a Zambian writer who lives and teaches in the United States. Her short story “The Sack” (2015) won the Caine Prize in African Fiction, and her first novel, The Old Drift, was published to global acclaim. Praised as “dazzling” by Salman Rushdie, short-listed for two Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, and long-listed for the Center for Fiction’s First Novel Prize, The Old Drift was also named one of the 100 Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times, one of the 100 Must-Read Books of the Year by Time, and a book of the year by The Atlantic, BuzzFeed, and National Public Radio. The Old Drift tells the story of three families—with people of African, European, and Indian descent—living in Zambia over the course of two hundred years. Part historical adventure, part psychological realism, part futuristic thriller, and part magical realism, the novel is an audacious, lush, sprawling, and altogether brilliant celebration of the artifice of fiction. An associate professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, Serpell is also the author of a book of literary criticism, Seven Modes of Uncertainty (2014), as well as the forthcoming essay collection Stranger Faces (2020).
I'm absolutely thrilled to receive this award and honored to join the company of these esteemed writers. The Windham-Campbell Prize has proven unique in celebrating writing from Africa based solely on its literary achievement; it's deeply gratifying to be taken seriously as an artist.NAMWALI SERPELL