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Ugandan wins 10,000 pound prize for African writing

A young Ugandan is this year's winner of a 10,000 pound prize for African writing, three years after she was a finalist for the award.

Monica Arac de Nyeko's short story "Jambula Tree" was the eighth winner of the annual Caine Prize, created in honor of the late Sir Michael Caine, a British businessman with a deep interest in Africa who for almost 25 years chaired the management committee of what is today known as the Man Booker Prize.

Arac de Nyeko was shortlisted for the prize in 2004 for another story, "Strange Fruit."

Because it recognizes short stories, the 10,000-pound (US$20,000; about 14,000 EUR) prize sometimes called the "African Booker" often spotlights younger writers and the concerns of emerging literary trends on the continent.

Arac de Nyeko, born in 1979 in Uganda's north, scene of one of the world's longest civil wars, writes of conflict and poverty, but also of love and family.

She writes with a sure touch for simile that brings to mind the best pop songs, packing layers of meaning and emotion into short, sharp phrases. Revenge in "Jambula Tree" is "sweet and salty like grasshoppers seasoned with onion and kamulari - red, red-hot pepper." In "Strange Fruit," a man press ganged by rebels in northern Uganda returns to his wife a convert to the cause, smelling of "gunpowder and decay."

Sudanese writer Jamal Mahjoub, chairman of the 2007 Caine judges, praised "Jambula Tree" as "a witty and touching portrait of a community which is affected forever by a love which blossoms between two adolescents."

Both the adolescents are women, described with such compassion that their community's unforgiving response when their love is discovered is more shocking than the theme. At a reading day before she was named the Caine Prize winner, Arac de Nyeko summed up "Jambula Tree" simply:

"It's a story really about innocence."

Arac de Nyeko studied in Uganda and the Netherlands, where she earned a degree in humanitarian assistance. She has taught literature and worked as a humanitarian officer in Italy and Sudan.

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