Nigerian Wins Top African Writing Prize

ADDIS ABEBA – Nigerian writer Lesley Nneka Arimah has won the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing, described as Africa’s leading literary award, for her short story ‘Skinned’, published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern.

The Chair of the Caine Prize judging panel, internationally acclaimed Kenyan author and poet Dr. Peter Kimani, announced Lesley as the winner of the £10,000 prize at an award dinner on Monday 8 July.

She won the top African writing prize beating four other writers including Ethiopian writer Meron Hadero, whose work ‘The Wall’ shortlisted for the prize.

The ceremony was held for the third time at Senate House, University of London, in partnership with SOAS and the Centre for African Studies.

‘Skinned’ envisions a society in which young girls are ceremonially ‘uncovered’ and must marry in order to regain the right to be clothed.

It tells the story of Ejem, a young woman uncovered at the age of fifteen yet ‘unclaimed’ in adulthood, and her attempts to negotiate a rigidly stratified society following the breakdown of a protective friendship with the married Chidinma.

With a wit, prescience, and a wicked imagination, ‘Skinned’ is a bold and unsettling tale of bodily autonomy and womanhood, and the fault lines along which solidarities are formed and broken.

Announcing the award, Dr. Peter said: “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,” Dr. Peter said. “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.”

Lesley Nneka Arimah was born in the UK and grew up in Nigeria and wherever else her father was stationed for work.

‘Skinned’ is available to read now on the Caine Prize website.

Joining Lesley on this year’s shortlist were:

  • Meron Hadero (Ethiopia) for ‘The Wall’, published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Issue 52 (2018).
  • Cherrie Kandie (Kenya) for ‘Sew My Mouth’, published in ID Identity: New Short Fiction From Africa (2018).
  • Ngwah-Mbo Nana Nkweti (Cameroon) for ‘It Takes A Village Some Say’, published in The Baffler (2017).
  • Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor (Nigeria) for ‘All Our Lives’, published in ID Identity: New Short Fiction From Africa (2018).

Each Caine Prize-shortlisted writer receives £500.

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