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Cablegate: Embassy's Mark Twain Literary Prize Helps

VZCZCXRO6562
RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHKI #1086 3491440
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 151440Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY KINSHASA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0423
INFO RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 1311
RUEHBS/AMEMBASSY BRUSSELS 2972
RUEHLE/AMEMBASSY LUXEMBOURG 0005
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 2306
RUEHPU/AMEMBASSY PORT AU PRINCE
RUEHTU/AMEMBASSY TUNIS 0045
RUEHRB/AMEMBASSY RABAT 0054
RUEHAS/AMEMBASSY ALGIERS 0055
RUEHLB/AMEMBASSY BEIRUT 0019
RUEHOT/AMEMBASSY OTTAWA 0139
RUEHMT/AMCONSUL MONTREAL
RUEHQU/AMCONSUL QUEBEC 0004
RUEHMRE/AMCONSUL MARSEILLE 0006

UNCLAS KINSHASA 001086

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR INR/R/MR; AF/C; AF/PD; AF/PA; AF/RSA; IIP/G/AF AWELDEN

E.O.12958: N/A
TAGS: OEXC OIIP OPRC KPAO PREL PHUM PINR SCUL SOCI CG
SUBJECT: EMBASSY'S MARK TWAIN LITERARY PRIZE HELPS
CONGOLESE WRITERS FIND THEIR VOICE
1. (SBU) Summary: PAS Kinshasa conceived, organized and sponsored
the monthly Mark Twain Literary Prize from June to December 2009.
Due to the event's enormous popular success, Ambassador has

announced that the contest will be extended for another six-month
period. More than 150 short works of fiction were entered into the
contest; six monthly winners and two grand prize winners were
selected; press coverage of each monthly event was extensive; the
program was well received by the public; and the stories themselves
have provided important insights into Congolese values and culture.
End summary.
2. (SBU) The Mark Twain Literary Prize was launched in June 2009 by
PAS Kinshasa. The contest solicited submissions of short works of
fiction (10,000 words or less), written in French by Congolese
citizens residing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
The program's goals were to encourage freedom of expression, support
Congolese writers of fiction, promote mutual understanding between
the embassy and local population, create a regular event for
outreach and press coverage, and develop strong and mutually
beneficial relationships with key contacts in the literary and
cultural communities. An award of $500 was given to the best story
submitted to the Embassy prior to the 15th of each month. The
laureates were selected by a jury including PAO, PDO, and three
local dignitaries (a member of the National Assembly who runs a
theater group, a prominent literary critic, and a young creative
entrepreneur). At the end of six months, a Grand Prize winner was
selected from among the monthly laureates and awarded $1,000 (in the
end, the jury could not decide between two excellent stories, so the
two writers -- both female -- were given Grand Prize awards).
3. (SBU) The prize was named in honor of Mark Twain because of that
writer's imagination, accessibility, and his use of fiction as a
medium for both entertainment and social criticism. From the
beginning, the prize stimulated an enthusiastic response from local
writers. More than 150 stories were received, through e-mail and
hard-copy submissions. Some 50-60 people attended each of the six
award ceremonies. The announcement of the launching of the prize,
as well as each award ceremony, received extensive -- and
overwhelmingly positive - press coverage. PAS Kinshasa commissioned
a local graphic design firm to design a poster and bookmarks, using
the Congolese colors of blue and gold. The posters were visually
striking, creating a memorable brand for the contest. The bookmarks
were used to disseminate rules for the prize and remind potential
contestants of the deadlines.
4. (SBU) The stories submitted offer insights into various issues
of concern to the local population. Congolese culture is at the
same time creative and circumspect. It is sometimes difficult to
get local contacts to speak candidly about the most vexing social
and political problems, especially when they involve conflicts
Qand political problems, especially when they involve conflicts
between the Congolese themselves. But through the vehicle of
fiction, writers were able to describe the challenges average
citizens face in their daily lives, and express frustration with
issues such as corruption or Sexual- and Gender-Based Violence
(SGBV).
5. (SBU) Certain themes were emphasized in many stories. These
themes included: SGBV and other women's issues, the clash of
cultures (either between Africa and the West, or within tribal and
ethnic groups), and the stresses of daily life in the DRC. Although
only a handful of women submitted stories, SGBV and other women's
issues were prominently featured. One of the Grand Prize stories,
"Le Mortier" (The Mortar), described a young urban woman's
acceptance of traditional marriage and village life. The other
Grand Prize winner, "Moi et Mon Cheveu," (Me and My Hair) was an
ironic study of the importance of physical appearance for women in
Congolese culture. Sexual and Gender Based Violence was addressed
explicitly by several stories, and some of the underlying cultural
biases against women that allow such a problem to persist in the DRC
were illustrated, both explicitly and implicitly. Even some stories
that were meant to be critical of SGBV demonstrated deep-rooted
sexual biases on the part of the male writers. The fact that only a
few of the more than 150 stories submitted were from female writers
points to the obstacles faced by women in Congolese society.
6. (SBU) Several stories address Congolese relations with the West.
One story, the first monthly prize winner, described how a street
kid's life was changed by a chance interaction with a rich
Westerner. Other stories described ambiguous feelings toward the
international community, life in Europe and the diaspora community.
Many of the stories discussing changes in fortune are like fables.
Events are adventitious, almost random, expressing the belief that
life is beyond their control, and can change dramatically in an
instant.
7. (SBU) Another prominent theme in many of the stories is the
stress of daily life. They describe difficulties in transportation
and communication, lack of economic opportunities, corruption and
cruelty. One submission tells the story of a young college girl
whose professor threatens to fail her unless she sleeps with him.
Another story describes the daily nightmare of riding in a public
bus in Kinshasa. Other stories describe traditional village life
with scenes evoking romantic pastoralism and often adapting the
style nd tone of traditional folk tales. Other social isues
discussed include the difficulties of inter-tribal marriage, the
social ostracism experienced by albinos and the handicapped, and the
stress of severe economic pressures on family life.
8. (SBU) At what was supposed to be the final awards ceremony on
December 9, the ambassador announced that the Mark Twain Prize would
be extended for another six months. This announcement was met with
great enthusiasm from the audience. In the future, PAS hopes to
extend the reach of the Mark Twain Prize and solicit more stories
from provincial areas. The six winning stories will be published in
both French and English versions and distributed free of charge to
participants, jury members and select contacts. And PAS Kinshasa is
exploring the possibility of writers' workshops and other supporting
programs to further develop the community that has formed around the
Mark Twain Prize.
9. (SBU) Comment: The Mark Twain Prize can be judged a success by
several measures. We believe the level of participation and the
positive feelings generated by the program have helped many
Congolese better appreciate American culture and the U.S. Embassy.
Press coverage of monthly events announcing winners has been
widespread and overwhelmingly positive. Winners, as well as jury
members and other participants, have formed a community -- now they
actively promote the prize and through it, the embassy. And the
Qactively promote the prize and through it, the embassy. And the
stories themselves are rich cultural documents. By offering the
Congolese a platform through which they could express themselves,
using the example of a great American writer as inspiration, PAS
Kinshasa was able to support local culture, promote American values,
and disseminate a positive image of the U.S. presence in the DRC.
Writers and their literary creations have historically been a strong
force for change in countries throughout the world. In Congo, where
there are few paths to publication, writers are finding their voice,
with the help of the embassy. End comment.

GARVELINK

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