This interview was meant to appear at about the time when the call for submission to the Golden Baobab Prize was announced for 2013. Albeit we were aware of the busy schedule of Deborah Ahenkorah, we still sent her our question. We hope you enjoy it.
1. Golden Baobab is half a decade old almost, what has been the experience so far?
It’s amazing how much we’ve grown in 5 years! Golden Baobab began as the BaobabLiterature Prize in 2008. Given that this year is the fifth year in which the prize is being organized, it’s actually more accurate to say that the Golden Baobab Prize is 5 years old. The prize was being run independently by Deborah Ahenkorah, Co-founder and Executive Director of Golden Baobab, until 2012, when she managed to build Golden Baobab, the organization which runs the prize.
2. You currently work from Ghana, do you have plans of setting up physical offices in other African countries?
As yet, there are no plans of setting up physical offices in other African countries but the idea has not been dismissed altogether. As Golden Baobab expands its work, we will definitely develop partnerships in different African countries with various organizationswho share a similar vision with us. This will ensure that we have key contact persons in these countries who will assist Golden Baobab to achieve its mission to inspire the creation, ensure the production and facilitate the distribution of enthralling, high quality, culturally relevant literary content by African writers and illustrators for African children. We have already started building these partnerships and it’s wonderful to see how many people share in our passion and are willing and able to contribute their two-cents toseeing it come to fruition.
3. You announced the fifth edition of the Golden Baobab Prize in April 2013, what are your expectations?
The Golden Baobab Prize has done incredibly well in the past and this year’s prize is no different. We received 180 stories from 13 countries. Granted, the number of submissions we received this year was lower than we had hoped, but we attribute that to the redesigned prize categories which ask for lengthier stories with an emphasis on content that inspires the imaginations of African children. We know that African writers who weren’t able to submit their stories for this year’s prize are busy writing great stories for next year! We are pleased to say that this year’s entries bring the total number of submissions to the Golden Baobab Prize over the past 5 years to a little over a 1,000 stories.
4. We noticed, from the flyer we have seen, that there are two new categories i.e. Best Picture Book Manuscript and Best Early Chapter Manuscript. What happened to the traditional Junior and Senior Categories?
The Golden Baobab Prize is moving in a slightly new direction where we have placed a greater emphasis on content that will inspire the imaginations of African children. In order to achieve this, our prize categories needed to change to reflect our vision of a world filled with wonder and possibility, one children’s story at a time. We believe that by fuelling the imaginations of African children at younger ages, we will make a greater impact on them, in that they will develop a love for reading early on in life and grow up with it.
5. You introduced a new program called the Golden Baobab Prize Search Hero Program in June. Can you tell us what it’s about?
When we launched the 2013 Prize in April, we wondered about the ways we could reach out to some new audiences and we thought: Why don’t we get people who share in our passion to help get the word out? So that’s what we did and we decided to call them our Search Heroes! These Search Heroes were competitively selected individuals from various countries who provided local search support for the 2013 Golden Baobab Prizeand they all did an amazing job! One of them, Nana Yaw Sarpong is one of your own. He was our Search Hero from Ghana. The others are Aleya Kassam from Kenya, Lynn Fester from South Africa, Zahrah Nesbitt-Ahmed from Nigeria and Allieu Kamara from Sierra Leone. We’re going to make this program bigger and better next year so watch out for who the new Search Heroes will be!
7. So once you receive the stories, what’s the next process?
Once we’ve received the stories, we begin the evaluation process which we are particularly proud of because of how thorough it is. The evaluation process is in two parts; the reading session and the judging session. The reading session lasts for approximately 8 weeks and this is the period where the stories are read and scored by the diverse and dedicated members of our reading team. At the start of the reading session the prize coordinator sends an introductory video, introducing herself to the reading team and letting them know what to expect during the reading process. The readers also receive the Golden Baobab Evaluation Handbook, which guides them to score the stories. Each story is read by at most three readers and each reader gives the stories scores. As stories receive their first and second reads, the lowest scoring stories are dropped. The scores from the stories are then averaged and each story is given a single score. Of the averaged scores, the top scoring stories are announced as the longlist. These stories are then sent to the judges who read them and select the winning stories.
8. In the past year, your organization focused more on illustration for children with many workshops (Paul Zelinsky was in Ghana for one of your events), why this development? Is it deliberate? Should we expect more?
The focus on illustration is certainly here to stay. We are actually launching an Illustrator Prize later this year, so that’s something exciting to look out for! Illustrations are the backbone of a majority of children’s book as they inspire evocative visual images that stir a child’s imaginations. We realized that to truly inspire the imaginations of children, thewonderful stories we receive would have to be accompanied by beautiful illustrations that children can fall in love with. As Golden Baobab moves into a production year with our new publishing arm, we will be turning some of the stories we have received into booksand we would love to discover illustrators we can work with to create the type ofbeautiful books that children will spot and immediately want to own
Any last thoughts?
Our vision to see African children reading culturally relevant books will not be materialized if we do not turn the manuscripts into books and that is exactly what the publishing arm is set up for. This endeavour is a huge investment and we would invite corporate bodies to partner with us to make bring this into fruition.
Finally, we would like to thank our partners, supporters and friends who have been with us throughout the years. We are very grateful.