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Samira Bawumia: Making of Ghanaian writers

BY: Manasseh Azure Awuni
Samira Bawumia prize winners
Samira Bawumia prize winners

When Abass Ibrahim stepped forward the third time for his letter, a wave of murmur erupted in one part of the afternoon assembly. That part was where the final year students, Abass’ year group, stood.

It was unusual for one student to get three letters from the post boy the same day, but that was not what heightened suspicions and evoked the murmur.

From each of the three envelopes containing the letters, the post boy read, “Abass Ibrahim, Sports Prefect.”

To the final year students who knew their colleague like the contents of their “chop boxes”, Abass was capable of addressing each of those letters to himself.

The form one girls had just arrived, and the boys in the senior class had to showcase their worth to be able to “catch them young”. And being called in front of the afternoon assembly for any reason other than a punishable offence was a big deal.

Unlike Abass, however, I did not have to resort to such antics to be in front of the school if I needed attention.

I was the senior school prefect so being in front of the students wasn’t a big deal to me. One afternoon, however, it was.

“Our senior prefect,” the headmaster of Krachi Secondary School, Thomas Fordjour Ababio, told the students, “has won a prize in a regional essay competition.”

The competition was organised by the KNUST chapter of the Volta Regional Students Association of Ghana (VORSAG) for secondary school students in the Volta Region.

I was a runner-up, but that was inconsequential. The fact that someone outside of Kete-Krachi had read my writing and liked it meant a lot to me.

Close to two decades later, I recalled this career-transforming and life-defining recognition as I watched the proud winners of the Samira Bawumia Literature Prize step forward to take their prizes. Their emotions, which were heard louder than their words, were justifiable.

The Samira Bawumia Literature Prize is an annual literary prize for the best short fiction, poetry and non-fiction prose by young Ghanaians living in Ghana. It is an initiative of the wife of the Vice-President of Ghana, Mrs. Samira Bawumia.

The prize is aimed to serve as “a launchpad for aspiring Ghanaian writers to share their art with the world.”

Sitting through the ceremony and interacting with the winners afterward, I was convinced the prize would live up to its high bidding. My own experience in the past erased any doubt to the contrary.

The first prize winners of the poetry, fiction and non-fiction categories received a laptop and a cash prize of GH¢5,000 each. Those who placed second received cash prizes of GH¢3,000 while the third prize winners took home GH¢2000. Those who were highly recommended got a GH¢1000.

All the winners went home with sets of books and other souvenirs.

Book

I thought I had seen enough to justify my envy of the young writers until I held a copy of the beautifully published book of their award-winning works titled All Ghana Stage: A Collection of Poems and Short Stories.

The quality of the writing in the collection gives hope to those who wonder what becomes of Ghanaian literature as the renowned writers we grew up reading leave life’s stage, one after the other.

The second edition of the competition has just been launched and promises to unearth more talents.

Literary awards of this nature help to bring more out of budding writers than just the talent and motivation to write. Recognitions are confidence boosters and nobody needs it more than writers at the dawn of their craft.

Writing is one of the human endeavours that can be killed by self-doubt. It often takes readers to make a writer. And if you’re someone who reads widely, you may begin to question your sanity when you think of writing to compete with the same audience as your idols.

This is where encouragements in the form of literary awards set in. My prize in 2004 encouraged me to write more.

And through that, someone recommended that I go to a journalism school. And I’m here today.

Prize

The Samira Bawumia Literature Prize also holds writers’ workshops.

 Samira Bawumia Literature Prize book

These are commendable initiatives that ought to be given the needed support by funding agencies and institutions and the private sector.

Singing and dancing aren’t the only way of measuring talent in the young Ghanaian.

Writers do not grow in the wild. They need to be cultivated, nurtured and manured. That is the only way to get a good harvest.

And we can only hope that the seed sown by Samira Bawumia would one day produce giant trees in the global literary forest so that the story of Ghana does not die with the Ayi Kwei Armahs and the Ama Ata Aidoos.