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Eastern’s Mama wins Benin’s (West Africa) top literary award

Published on January 06, 2022

Eastern’s Mama wins Benin’s (West Africa) top literary award

mama headshot and award

Eastern Connecticut State University English Professor Raouf Mama’s newly published picture book, “La Jarre Trouée” has been named the winner of Le Grand Prix Litteraire du Benin for 2021, the top literary prize in Mama’s native country of Benin.

The prestigious honor comes with a cash award of 5 million West African CFA francs (approximately $9,000 U.S. dollars). The story made headlines in nearly a dozen newspapers in Benin, and Mama was interviewed on several radio and television stations there.

News headline “La Jarre Trouée,” which Mama wrote in French, was one of 10 finalists representing three literary genres: fiction, poetry and folk tales. It is an inspirational historical tale recounting King Ghezo’s use of a jar covered with holes as a teaching tool to impress upon the people of the kingdom of Danxome the virtues of unity and concord and the perils of internecine conflict and discord.

“In a world haunted by the specter of factionalism and the ‘me first’ impulse, the words the king spoke at the climax of the story are as relevant today as they ever were,” said Mama. “‘Behold, our fatherland is like a jar covered with holes,’ said Ghezo. ‘Unless we stand together and stop with our fingers the holes in the jar, it would not hold the water of life.’”

The jar covered with holes is a national icon in Benin and is widely regarded as a motivating force behind that country’s peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy in 1990.

Le Grand Prix Litteraire du Benin is the latest in a series of distinctions Mama has garnered over the past several years. In 2008, he won the National Multicultural Children’s Book award; the Kwabo Trophy in 2009; the Erasmus Mundus International Fellowship in 2011; Eastern’s Distinguished Teacher of the Year Award in 2012; the Benin National English Teachers’ Association Distinguished Merit Award in 2019; and a CSU Professorship in 2020.

In addition, Mama’s latest literary award signals his entry into the restricted circle of scholars and writers who have written award-winning books in French and English.

Mama teaches English and Storytelling at Eastern. He is the only person in the world today who tells folktales from Benin and other parts of the world in English, French, Fon and Yoruba. 

Written by Dwight Bachman