Author Lesley Nneka Arimah

The 2019 Caine Prize for African writing has been won by Nigerian writer Lesley Nneka Arimah through her short story ‘Skinned.’

The story 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. 

The story tells of Ejem, a young woman uncovered at the age of fifteen 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, acclaimed Kenyan author and poet Dr Peter Kimani praised Ms Arimah for her unique retake of women’s struggle for inclusion in a society regulated by rituals.

{ Read: Kenyan author wins the 2018 Caine Prize for African writing }

“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,” said Dr Kimani.

The 36-year old who has been described as a skillful storyteller who can render entire relationships with just a few lines of dialogue and a new voice with certain staying power has, before, been nominated twice for the Caine Prize.

According to her, the winning story 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.”

In 2015, Ms Arimah won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa with her story ‘Light.’

{ See Also: The fearless Kenyan gay writer, Binyavanga Wainaina }


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