You Should Know About Lesley Arimah

July 9, 2019

There aren’t many things that excite Nigerians in these Buhari times, but if there’s one thing that unites us all, it’s the sight of other Nigerians getting recognition on the world stage.

Recently, Nigeria’s creative industry, from afrobeats to fashion, has enjoyed the biggest share of the spotlight. Nigerian authors may be the least popular of their peers, but as Achebe and Soyinka would have you know, they have been doing the Lord’s work for decades. Fittingly, in the last few years, Nigerian storytelling has gotten more attention than ever.

The latest recognition has come in grand style. Nigerian author, Lesley Nneka Arimah has been announced as the winner of the 2019 Caine Prize For African Writing. Launched in 2000, the Caine Prize is awarded to an African writer of a short story published in English. Arimah is in great company; past winners include E C Osondu, the late Binyavanga Wainaina and Helon Habila.

We know you want to stan, so if you’re looking to get familiar with her, here’s what you need to know about a woman who’s bound to become Nigeria’s latest literary darling.

IT BEGAN IN PORT-HARCOURT

Lesley Nneka Arimah was born in the UK. She grew up in Nigeria and other countries her father would move to for work. She started writing as early as 8 when she lived in Port Harcourt. Most of the stories she wrote around this time were fairy tales. She almost went to law school, but instead studied for an MFA in creative writing at Minnesota State University in the United States.

FUN FACT: She makes clothes too.

Arimah loves to write short stories about tradition, cultural dynamics and self.

She writes fiction with a mix of speculative and nonspeculative elements. Her stories always create new myths that speak to our current world and traditions. Like many other female writers of African descent, she addresses themes of mother-daughter relationships, feminism, justice etc.

Who Will Greet You at Home,” published in the New Yorker is the story about a woman in Nigeria who, in order to have a child, must first fabricate it from a material of her choice, which will determine its character. The fabricated baby will then be blessed by the woman’s mother and come to life, eventually transforming into a flesh-and-blood child.

No-one can ever accuse her of being unimaginative.

Arimah’s debut collection of short stories, “What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky”, was published by Riverhead Books and Tinder Press in the UK and Farafina Books in Nigeria in 2017. Before that, her story, “Light” was published in Granta Magazine.

ACCOLADES!

Arimah’s got the sauce and the accolades to show for it. In 2015, “Light” won the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa. Her 2017 collection, “What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky” won the Kirkus Prize for Fiction, the Minnesota Book Award for Fiction and the New York Public Library’s Young Lions Fiction Award. It was also shortlisted for the 9mobile Prize for Literature in 2018.

She was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2016, 2017 and eventually won in 2019. “Skinned”, the story which won her the 2019 edition, is about a parallel universe where women go naked until they’re married.

SHE’S STILL WRITING

Nowadays, Arimah lives in Las Vegas where, according to her website, she’s currently working on a story about you.

Segun Akande

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