Nigerian author Lesley Nneka Arimah has won the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story ‘Skinned’.
The chair of the Caine Prize judging panel, internationally acclaimed Kenyan author and poet Dr Peter Kimani, revealed Lesley as the winner of the £10,000 prize at an award dinner at Senate House, University of London last night (Monday 8th July).
‘Skinned’, published in American literary journal McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern (Issue 53), envisions a society in which young girls are ceremonially ‘uncovered’ and must marry in order to regain the right to be clothed.
Kimani praised Arimah for her "unique retake of women's struggle for inclusion in a society regulated by rituals".
"Skinned 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," reads the synopsis. "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, 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.”
Born in the UK, Arimah 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. She is a 2019 United States Artists Fellow in Writing. She lives in Las Vegas.
‘Skinned’ is available to read now on the Caine Prize website. Joining Arimah 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) and 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.
Sefi Atta, Nigerian author and playwright shortlisted for the 2006 Caine Prize; author Margie Orford; Scott Taylor, professor, and director of the African Studies Program at Georgetown University; and Olufemi Terry, Sierra Leone-born author and winner of the 2010 Caine Prize joined Kimani on this year's judging panel.
A special anniversary anthology containing all winning stories throughout the history of the Caine Prize will be published later this year. The prize was launched in 2000 to encourage and highlight the richness and diversity of African writing by bringing it to a wider audience internationally. The focus on the short story reflects the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition.
An extract can be read here.