Jumoke Verissimo’s debut novel, A Small Silence, shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize

Cassava Republic Press is proud to announce that A Small Silence by Nigerian author Jumoke Verissimo has been shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize – an annual award of £10,000 that recognises a “distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place.” The shortlist, which was announced on April 20, 2020, comes weeks after the awarding body announced its longlist of 18 books, with Verissimo being the only African on the list. 

Published in August 2019 by Cassava Republic Press, A Small Silence thoughtfully examines mental instability and the effects of trauma on the sense of self, through complex and compelling characters with flawed and affecting personalities. Evoking the spirit of other existentialist novels like Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born and Albert Camus’ The Outsider, Verissimo through elegant prose tackles the hidden injuries of social inequality, homelessness, the importance of human connection, and police brutality.

Author Helon Habila describes A Small Silence as “a lyrical, thought provoking portrait of a people and a society caught in a moment of change. A compelling and compulsive story.”; while in a Guardian review author Irenosen Okojie notes that “A Small Silence feels like an act of literary disruption. Hypnotic, expertly crafted and full of subtle power, it challenges cultural norms around silence, darkness and solitude, leaving the reader changed in ways that are hard to define.”

Jumoke Verissimo said: 

“I have always thought of place as character, as essential to our sense of being and this is why I am so very happy to be shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize. I feel like a secret, meaningful conversation about Lagos has been brought to the world. To say, my happiness is a like a full moon in a dark night. I am absolutely delighted!”

Layla Mohamed, editor of A Small Silence said:

“Reading A Small Silence is like stepping directly onto the streets of Lagos, so viscerally are the sights, sounds and smells of the city brought to life. I am delighted that this novel has been shortlisted for the RSL Ondaatje Prize, as Jumoke Verissimo’s compelling prose captures not only the spirit of a place, but also its people – depicting life at the margins of society in all its shades, without condescension or sensationalism. A Small Silence is a thought-provoking exploration of isolation and the power of human connection, which feels especially poignant today.”

Currently in its 15th year, RSL Ondaatje Prize (2020) is judged by Peter Frankopan (Chair), Pascale Petit and Evie Wyld. The winner will be announced on Monday, May 4.

About the book:

Released after a decade in prison for his activism, Prof resolves to live the rest of his life alone and in the dark, pushing away friends and family.  At least until a young woman called Desire comes knocking at his door, intruding on his solitude. At 9pm every day, Desire shows up and they sit together in the dark, tentatively forming a bond, listening to each other’s silence and thoughts. However, the darkness of the room that provides such comfort for Prof becomes a steady torment for Desire, and threatens to drive her away for good. A Small Silence is a testament to the transformative power of the dark and silence, as well as our discomfort with them. Get the book HERE

About the author:

Jumoke Verissimo writes poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction. She has published two collections of poetry; I Am Memory  won the Carlos Idzia Ahmad Prize’s First Prize for a first book of Poetry, and the Second Prize for the Anthony Agbo Prize first book of Poetry, and The Birth of Illusion was shortlisted for the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Poetry Prize and longlisted for the NLNG Prize. She has also published a chapbook with Saraba Magazine, titled Epiphanies (2015). 

Her poetry has been translated into French, Chinese, Japanese, Macedonian, and Norwegian. Jumoke is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. programme in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, Canada. A Small Silence is her debut novel. 

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