It was a case of double honours for Anietie Isong when he not only graduated with a PhD from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) but also won a national award for his debut novel.
Anietie graduated from DMU on Thursday last week with a PhD for his research into New Media and Writing and then, that evening, his book was named as the winner of the £4,000 McKitterick prize by the Society of Authors.
Radio Sunrise, which was first published last year, explores unethical journalism practices in Anietie’s home country of Nigeria and was influenced by his own experiences of working for a radio station where he witnessed first-hand the issues journalists face.
It paints a satirical portrait of ‘brown envelope’ journalism in the country, where the media is expected to accept cash from news sources - raising questions about impartiality.
Judge Aamer Hussein, short story writer and Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, said: “It’s a particular pleasure to discover the original, intriguing voice of Anietie Isong.
“In his brief, deftly-told Radio Sunrise, the author depicts his often hapless protagonist’s sexual mishaps and political travails on a journey to his hometown with a unique blend of humour and poignance. An intriguing and accomplished new novelist.”
Anietie’s prize, which is for debut novels by people aged over 40, was announced in London at a ceremony hosted by Stephen Fry with an introduction by Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy and President of the Society of Authors.
Anietie said: “In the UK, it is common to see prizes devoted to celebrating young authors— mostly those in their 20s and early 30s, but I think it is equally important to have a literary award that rewards late bloomers.
“I wrote the novel in my early 30s, but due to other commitments, was not able to get it published until I was 40. The McKitterick Prize specifically celebrates age and literary merit, and I am incredibly thrilled to win this year’s prize.
“It is also exciting to be awarded the prize on the day of my graduation – double honours!”
Radio Sunrise follows Ifiok, a young journalist working for the government radio station in Lagos, who, after travelling to his hometown to make a documentary about a band of ex-militants, is forced to confront the ugly truth about the future of his country and his existence.
Anietie was awarded a prestigious Authors’ Foundation grant by the Society of Authors to enable him to complete his novel.
Radio Sunrise has received highly positive reviews, with 2017 Man Booker international judge Chika Unigwe saying: “Isong weaves a profoundly personal story about contemporary Nigeria even when dealing with broader societal and cultural issues.”
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Marina Lewycka, author of best-selling novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, said: “Anietie Isong is a keen observer of his society, with an exceptional gift of narration.”
Anietie has won several awards for his writing, including the Commonwealth Short Story Award, the inaugural Olaudah Equiano Prize for Fiction and the maiden Remember Oluwale Writing Prize.
He hopes that the publication of Radio Sunrise will help to draw attention to brown envelope journalism in Nigeria, which has a negative impact on corporate organisations in the country as well as the careers of journalists.
Anietie previously told DMU: “Investigative journalism can be daunting in Nigeria and, given the financial rewards associated with ‘brown envelopes’, a journalist might find it difficult to remain impartial, especially at a time of economic uncertainty.”
Posted on Tuesday 24th July 2018