Satire on tradition wins top African writing prize

Tuesday July 09 2019

British-born Nigerian writer Lesley Nneka Arimah has won the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing. PHOTO | COURTESY


The Caine Prize for African Writing has been won by British-born Nigerian writer Lesley Nneka Arimah.

Her satirical short story Skinned focuses on the challenges faced by women in African societies still dominated by traditional rituals.

The story follows the fortunes of Ejem, who comes from a culture where girls are uncovered at a certain age and go naked until they are claimed by a husband.

The 36-year-old told the Literary Hub that the idea came from a conversation about the difference between married and single women in Nigeria: “A newly wed friend marvelled at how her family — usually difficult — became easy going after her wedding. Marriage gave unconventional women cover to be themselves, we observed.”

Arimah told the BBC's Newsday programme that her story is set in an "alternate Nigeria... a parallel universe to ours".



She uses the setting to "touch on this aspect of Nigerian culture that privileges marriage and a woman being married [being] essentially her duty".

"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," said the judging panel in a statement.

The chairperson of the judging panel, Peter Kimani, described the story as a "unique retake of women’s struggle for inclusion in a society regulated by rituals".

Arimah was shortlisted for the award in 2017 and her debut collection What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky was published to critical acclaim the same year.

The Caine Prize, which is worth $12,500 (£10,000) is awarded for a short story published in English. It was established in 2000 with the aim of bringing African writing to a wider international audience.