Namwali Serpell Wins
34th Clarke Award

The winner of the 34th Arthur C. Clarke Award for science fiction literature was announced on September 23.

  • The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell (Hogarth/Vintage)

Announcing this year’s prize, author and 2019 winner Tade Thompson (Rosewater) said:

The Old Drift is, to me, the great African novel of the twenty-first century. The scale, the characters, the polish and lyricism of the passages all conspire to tell an unforgettable tale. At last, a book that acknowledges that the African lives with the fantastic and mundane.

“At last, an African book of unarguable universality. Namwali Serpell has created something specifically Zambian and generally African at the same time. The Old Drift is everything fiction should be, and everything those of us who write should aspire to. Hats off. Well-deserved win. This is why my faith in the Clarke Award is unshakable.”

Speaking on behalf of the judging panel, Chair of Judges Dr Andrew M. Butler added:

“Namwali Serpell’s The Old Drift is, as one of our judges put it, ‘stealth sf’, with inheritance and infection at its heart. She has created an extraordinary family saga which spans eras from Cecil Rhodes to Rhodes Must Fall, and beyond.

“It is a timely novel which interrogates colonialism from within and points to the science fictionality of everyday events. Our pandemic-ravaged world reminds us how connected our world has been for the last century or more – and this book points to the global nature of science fiction.”

The annual Arthur C. Clarke Award is presented for the best science fiction novel of the year, and selected from a list of novels whose UK first edition was published in the previous calendar year.

Namwali Serpell receives a trophy in the form of a commemorative engraved bookend and prize money of £2020.00. Serpell tweeted thanks for the award:

The members of the judging panel were:

  • Stewart Hotston, British Science Fiction Association
  • Alasdair Stuart, British Science Fiction Association
  • Farah Mendlesohn, Science Fiction Foundation
  • Chris Pak, Science Fiction Foundation
  • Rhian Drinkwater, SCI-FI-LONDON film festival

Andrew M. Butler represented the Arthur C. Clarke Award in a non-voting role as the Chair of the Judges. Before the winner was announced, he posted his “Chair of Judges Speech” to Medium.

…I’m not entirely sure if this has been a cosy catastrophe — I don’t remember Wyndham predicting the Toilet Paper Dearth or the flour shortage — but then his novels are much darker than we thought they were fifty years ago.

The judging this year mostly took place from our individual bunkers via the media of Zoom rather than face to face.

We’ve seen Alien, we know the quarantine procedure.

Any joking aside, I’d like to thank the judges — Farah Mendlesohn and Chris Pak for the Science Fiction Foundation, Alasdair Stuart and Stewart Hotston for the BSFA and Rhian Drinkwater for Sci Fi London — for keeping the award discussion going in very difficult circumstances. I was rather relieved that at the final, lengthy, meeting we were able to choose a winner for the Clarke Award — winner, not two, and we certainly weren’t going to decide that the prize should be split six ways. As always, none of us was clear which book that winner would be even after a couple of hours of discussion….

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