Lesley Nneka Arimah has won the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story ‘Skinned’, published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern‘s Issue 53. She is the sixth Nigerian to win the Caine prize
In 2016, Arimah was shortlisted for the Caine prize £10,000 prize in 2016, for the title story of her collection, and in 2017, for “Who Will Greet You at Home?”
Her debut book, the story collection What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (2017), won the Kirkus Prize and made her qualify as one of the US National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35.
On the shortlist were Meron Hadero (Ethiopia) for ‘The Wall’, Cherrie Kandie (Kenya) for ‘Sew My Mouth’, Ngwah-Mbo Nana Nkweti (Cameroon) for ‘It Takes A Village Some Say’, and Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor (Nigeria) for ‘All Our Lives’.Arimah, winner of the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa, has twice been shortlisted for the Caine Prize before in 2016 and 2017.
Arimah’s short story, “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 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.
In announcing the prize, the chair of the judges, 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’ 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.”
About the Author
Lesley Nneka Arimah was born in the UK and grew up in Nigeria. Her short stories have received the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and an O. Henry Prize. 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. A 2019 United States Artists Fellow in Writing, she lives in Las Vegas.
About the Prize
Founded in 2000, the Caine Prize is named after the late Sir Michael Caine, former Chairman of Booker plc and Chairman of the Booker Prize management committee. It honours a short story of 3,000-10,000 words published in English by an African writer.