The Old Drift tells the story of three families in Zambia whose lives converge over multiple generations. A reviewer for Kirkus said the novel’s “generous spirit, sensory richness, and visionary heft make it almost unique among magical realist epics.” The book previously won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction.
Andrew M. Butler, chair of the award’s judging panel, called the book “stealth sci-fi,” the Guardian reports.
“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,” Butler said.
The Clarke Award was established in 1987; Margaret Atwood won the first award for The Handmaid’s Tale. Other winners have included China Miéville for Perdido Street Station and Emily St. John Mandel for Station Eleven.
Serpell reacted to news of her win on Twitter, writing, “WHAT?! I’m so surprised and honored and delighted! Thank you so much. WOW WOW WOW!…It means so much to me to have this recognition for my novel—SFF readers are incredibly discerning. Thank you!”
WHAT?! I'm so surprised and honored and delighted! Thank you so much. WOW WOW WOW! Thank you, thank you, thank you, Tade and the judges and @ClarkeAward! It means so much to me to have this recognition for my novel--SFF readers are incredibly discerning. Thank you! https://t.co/gcdKtjyI98— Namwali Serpell (@namwalien) September 23, 2020
Michael Schaub is a Texas-based journalist and regular contributor to NPR.