Fayssal Bensalah has become the first-ever winner of the Toyin prize with his wonderful story, “The Last Shot of Ahmed Bey’s Cannon”. During the announcement ceremony at the 2020 Ake Arts and Book Festival, he stated that his aspiration is “to be among the first Algerian writers who write in English, to pioneer a new literary tide of Anglophone Algerian fiction, and this award has turbocharged me to pursue this aspiration further and to keep writing unabated.” The 26 years old Algerian writer has been “writing in English for the past 5 years,” which makes English his third working language alongside Arabic and French. Fayssal has an MA in British and American Studies from the University of Constantine in Algeria and is currently a Creative Writing Ph.D. student at Cardiff University.
In its inaugural year, from a total of 784 eligible submissions to a longlist of 24 and then a shortlist of 8, the Toyin Falola Prize has proudly staked its claim as an agency concerned foremost with discovering, enhancing, and promoting African creativity, and we’re more than convinced of its success as it progresses.
Of the final three stories we had to consider for the winner, two were in competition for the prize. They showed great understanding of character development and how to work with and move plots in unexpected ways. They also revealed a practiced hand at crafting lean, concise, and sparkling sentences, as well as impressive use of dialogue. However, what “The Last Shot” had going for it that stood it above its competitors is that element that you can’t define: the whao factor. It was the story that showed the most promise; that stayed with the readers and judges the most, and that simply left you amazed and guessing at its twists and turns. It was unpredictable, deeply historical without trying to be, and it had the capacity to wrestle your thoughts for attention long after you have read it. Like one of the readers said, what a cannonball of a story. “The Last Shot of Ahmed Bey’s Cannon”, set in the Algerian East, is about a middle-aged Algerian professor who goes home in pursuit of love.
However, we also want to praise Faraaz Mahommed’s story "This is My Body" and Somtochukwu Ani’s “A History of Celestial Bodies”. If we had more than one winner, these stories would have clinched the prize.