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Nigerian author's dystopian tale scoops £10,000 prize

ENVISION NEW POSSIBILITIES: Lesley Nneka Arimah won this year’s Caine Prize for African Writing, and the winning story Skinned is available to read online

LONDON-BASED Nigerian writer Lesley Nneka Arimah has won this year’s Caine Prize for African Writing, described as the continent’s leading literary award, for her short story Skinned, published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern (issue 53).

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 awards dinner earlier this month.

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 15 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, Peter Kimani 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 defamiliarises 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.”

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

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 honours.

Arimah is one of this year’s Fellows in Writing, chosen by United States Artists, and lives in Las Vegas. Joining her on this year’s shortlist were:
• Meron Hadero (Ethiopia) for The Wall, published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, issue 52
• Cherrie Kandie (Kenya) for Sew My Mouth, published in ID Identity: New Short Fiction From Africa
• Ngwah-Mbo Nana Nkweti (Cameroon) for It Takes A Village Some Say, published in The Baffler.
• Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor (Nigeria) for All Our Lives, published in ID Identity: New Short Fiction From Africa.

Each Caine Prize shortlisted writer receives £500.

Skinned is available to read on the Caine Prize website

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