Nigerian Lesley Nneka Arimah Wins Caine Prize 2019

Nigerian writer, Lesley Nneka Arimah has won the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing. The 36-year-old author defeated writers from other countries in Africa like Cameroon, Ethiopia, and Kenya to win the highly coveted prize. According to Peter Kimani, the chair of judges, Lesley Arimah is entitled to £10,000 (an equivalent of over N4.4m).

Kimani who announced the winner had this to say: “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.”

The short story that got Lesley Arimah the win is titled Skinned. It was published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern (Issue 53) 2018. This fictional work visualises a society in which young girls are ceremonially ‘uncovered’ and must marry in order to regain the right to be clothed.

The story is centered around a young woman named Ejem who is uncovered at the age of 15 and is still yet ‘unclaimed’ in adulthood. It speaks of her attempts to negotiate a rigidly stratified society following the breakdown of a protective friendship with the married Chidinma.

With wit, prescience, and roguish, Skinned passes for a bold and unsettling tale of bodily autonomy and womanhood, and the fault lines along which solidarity are formed and broken.

Lesley 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.

You can read her story here

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