Namwali Serpell

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Namwali Serpell
Namwali Serpell 3152373.jpg
GenresShort story, novel
Notable awardsCaine Prize;
Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award

Carla Namwali Serpell (born 1980) is a Zambian writer who teaches in the United States. She was also educated here, coming with her family when she was nine. Her short story "The Sack" won the 2015 Caine Prize for African fiction in English. In April 2014 she was named on the Hay Festival's Africa39 list of 39 Sub-Saharan African writers aged under 40 with the potential and talent to define trends in African literature.[1]


Namwali Serpell was born in 1980 in Lusaka, Zambia,to Robert Serpell and his wife.[2] Her British-Zambian father is a professor of psychology at the University of Zambia, and her mother is an economist.[3] When she was nine, her family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, in the United States.[3]

Serpell was educated in the United States. She completed her undergraduate degree in literature at Yale and her doctorate (PhD) in American and British fiction at Harvard.

Since 2008 she has lived in California, where she is an associate professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley. She returns to Lusaka for visits annually.[4]

Her story "Muzungu" was shortlisted in 2010 for the Caine Prize, an annual award for African short fiction in English. In 2011, she received the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers' Award, a prize for beginning women writers.[3]

Her story "The Sack" won the Caine Prize in 2015. Serpell, saying "fiction is not a competitive sport", announced she would share the $15,000 prize with the other shortlisted writers, Masande Ntshanga, F. T. Kola, Elnathan John, and Segun Afolabi.[4] Serpell was the first Caine winner from Zambia.[5] The "sack" of the title, according to Serpell, derives from a terrifying dream she had at 17, "and I didn't know if I was on the inside or the outside". It also has political implications: "I was studying American and British fiction, and [another graduate student] was studying African contemporary fiction, and her theory was that any time you saw a sack in African literature, it was a hidden reference to the transatlantic slave trade. I was kind of writing my story against that."[5]


  • The Ethics of Uncertainty: Reading Twentieth-century American Literature, PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 2008, ISBN 9780549617112
  • Seven Modes of Uncertainty. Harvard University Press. 1 April 2014. ISBN 978-0-674-72909-4.
Short stories


  1. ^ Africa39 list of artists, Hay Festival.
  2. ^ Sharing the Earth: An International Environmental Justice Reader. University of Georgia Press. 15 June 2015. pp. 161–. ISBN 978-0-8203-4770-7.
  3. ^ a b c Eastaugh, Sophie (8 July 2015). "Things to know about Caine Prize winner Namwali Serpell". CNN. Retrieved 10 July 2015.
  4. ^ a b Dwyer, Colin (8 July 2015). "Caine Prize Winner: Literature Is Not A Competitive Sport". NPR. Retrieved 10 July 2015.
  5. ^ a b Flood, Alison (7 July 2015). "Caine prize goes to Zambian Namwali Serpell". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 July 2015.

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