Nigerian Lesley Nneka Aarimah wins 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing

Nigerian Lesley Nneka Aarimah wins 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing

Nigerian Lesley Nneka Aarimah 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing Winner I Courtesy

Lesley Nneka Aarimah, Nigerian author is the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story “Skinned”, beating four other finalists.

Skinned is about a society where women cannot wear clothes until they are married published inMcSweeney’s Quarterly Concern (Issue 53) 2018.

Dr. Peter Kimani, Chair of Judges announced Lesley as the winner of the £10,000 (KSh1.3 million) prize on Monday 8 July.

“The winner of this year’s Caine Prize for African Writing is a unique retake of women’s struggle for inclusion in a society regulated by rituals. 

Lesley Nneka Arimah’s Skinned defamiliarizes the familiar to topple social hierarchies, challenge traditions and envision new possibilities for women of the world. Using a sprightly diction, she invents a dystopian universe inhabited by unforgettable characters where friendship is tested, innocence is lost, and readers gain a new understanding of life.”

In her acceptance speech Arimah said, “When I think of what literature can do, and I think of the ways that literature has changed minds and opened imaginations, I want to say that we African writers must centre the African gaze. We must centre the Nigerian gaze, the Cameroonian gaze, the Ethiopian gaze, the Kenyan gaze. We need to be writing to and for each other, and we also need to play. And what I mean by play is that when one knows a thing inside and out, say cooking, the chefs who do fusion cooking do so because they know both cuisines that they are using intimately. I think of experimentation as the sign of expertise. And I think it’s important we continue as we have started, as we have been, as we are doing always, that we continue to play within the bounds of our literatures. And I emphasise “each other” because, yes, we must centre the African gaze.”

Other candidates who were shortlisted for the prize include Merron Hadero, The Wall (Ethiopia), Ngwah-mbo Nana Nkweti, It Takes A Village Some Say (Cameroon), Cherrie Kandie, Sew My Mouth (Kenya), Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor, All Our Lives (Nigeria).

The Caine Prize for African Writing is a registered charity whose aim is to bring African writing to a wider audience using our annual literary award.

According to her website, Arimah was born in the UK and grew up in Nigeria and wherever else her father was stationed for work. 

Her stories have been honored with a National Magazine Award, a Commonwealth Short Story Prize and an O. Henry Award.

Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, GRANTA and has received support from The Elizabeth George Foundation and MacDowell. She was selected for the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 and her debut collection What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky won the 2017 Kirkus Prize, the 2017 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award and was selected for the New York Times/PBS book club among other honors.

Arimah is a 2019 United States Artists Fellow in Writing. She lives in Las Vegas and is working on a novel about you.

Other winners in the past eight  competitions are: 

Kenya’s Makena Onjerika (2018), South Africa’s Lidudumalingani (2016), Zambia’s Namwali Serpell (2015), Kenya’s Okwiri Oduor (2014), Nigeria’s Tope Folarin (2013), Nigeria’s Rotimi Babatunde (2012), Zimbabwe’s NoViolet Bulawayo (2011) and Sierra Leone’s Olufemi Terry (2010).

Kenya’s Yvonne Adhiambo Oduor (2003) and the late  Binyavanga Wainaina (2002).