Writing

Ghana's Meshack Asare Is First African Winner Of NSK Neustadt Children's Literature Prize

Ghana's Meshack Asare wins the 2015 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature for his book, 'Kwajo and the Brassman's Secret.'


Ghanaian children's book author Meshack Asare has been announced as the winner of the 2015 NSK Neustadt Prize for Children's Literature. The prolific author and illustrator, whose victory marks the first time an African writer has walked away with the prestigious prize since its inception in 2003, beat out six other finalists to take home the $25,000 award. Asare's win was announced last Friday (Oct. 24) at a banquet event co-hosted by World Literature Daily and the University of Oklahoma.

Born in Nyankumasi, Ghana, in 1945, Asare began his literary career by illustrating books for his author friends while studying Fine Art at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. In an interview with WorldReader, Asare explained that his decision to begin writing came after noticing a dearth of characters in children's literature that African boys and girls could identify with:

These books had little stories and poems, Jack and Jill fetching water and that sort of thing. They were influential in the sense that they showed me what other children did, how they lived, and what kinds of things were around them. But I could not connect them to my own environment or experience. I thought it would be great to have a book about things that I, too, could recognize. [...] It is essential for children, especially children in developing countries, to be helped by every means possible to be able to read, to have books to read, and to have books that tell them about themselves.

Asare was nominated for the prize by fellow Ghanaian writer and NSK Prize juror Nii Ayikwei Parkes. Parkes also selected Asare's award-winning book, Kwajo and The Brassman's Secret, as the representative work from the iconic children's author to be sent into competition. First published in 1981, Kwajo and The Brassman's Secret follows the titular character as he navigates a fantasy land steeped in Ashanti folklore where he must decide between wisdom and material wealth. In the wake of the announcement, Asare remarked, "It is such a privilege, honor, and delight to receive the distinguished NSK Neustadt Prize for my modest contribution as an African, towards Children’s Literature." In addition to the monetary prize, Asare will receive a silver medallion, a certificate of recognition and a literary festival hosted in his honor.

The NSK Neustadt Prize for Children’s Literature recognizes excellence in children's storytelling and is awarded biennially to any writer or illustrator worldwide whose work seeks to improve the quality of children's lives.

Music

6 Samples From 'Éthiopiques' in Hip-Hop

A brief history of Ethio-jazz cultural exchange featuring songs by Nas & Damian Marley, K'naan, Madlib and more.

This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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