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Chika Unigwe

Chika Unigwe, Nigerian writer and author of On Black Sisters' Street

Amarachika Unigwe is a Nigerian-born writer who writes in English and Dutch.

Early Life and Education
She was born in Enugu in 1974. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and a Master of Art from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. She also has a PhD in Literature from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands. Her thesis, entitled “In the Shadow of Ala; Igbo Women Writing as an Act of Righting,” was completed in 2004.

Career
Unigwe, who was inspired by the works of Chinua AchebeFlora Nwapa and Buchi Emecheta, first made her mark as a novelist in September 2005 with De Feniks (The Phoenix), which was published in Dutch by Meulenhoff/Manteau (of Amsterdam and Antwerp). It was the first book of fiction written by a Flemish author of African origin and was shortlisted for the Vrouw en Kultuur debuutprijs (‘Women and Culture Debut Prize’) for the best first novel by a female writer, as well as the 2007 Gerard Walschapprijs, a bi-annual prize for novels. The novel tells of the personal problems of an African woman in Flanders and explores themes such as grief, illness and loneliness, as well as the shortcomings of Belgian society.

Her stories "Borrowed Smile" and "Weathered Smiles" won the 2004 BBC and Commonwealth short story competitions respectively. She was also awarded the VDAB-Prijs (De Eerste Keer), which is sponsored by both the public employment service of Flanders and the Belgian Ministry of Labour, for "De Smaak van Sneeuw", her first short story written in Dutch. In the same year, her short story “Dreams” made the top ten of the Million Writers Award for best online fiction. "The Secret", another of her short pieces, was nominated for the 2004 Caine Prize for African Writing. She was the recipient of a UNESCO-Aschberg bursary in 2007 and of a 2009 Rockefeller Foundation fellowship for creative writing. In 2005, she won the third prize in the Equiano Fiction Contest.

Her second novel Fata Morgana – about African prostitutes living and working in Belgium – was published in Dutch in 2008 and was later released in English the following year as On Black Sisters’ Street. The book, which was long-listed for the 2011International IMPAC Dublin Literary Awardwon the 2012 NLNG Prize for Literature (otherwise known as the Nigeria Literature Prize), the country’s biggest literary prize.

Her latest novel, Night Dancer, is set in Enugu and was published in English in 2012. It was originally published in Dutch asNachtdanser in 2011. Unigwe has published short fiction in several anthologies, journals and magazines including Wasafiri(of the University of London), Moving Worlds (University of Leeds), Per ContraVoices (University of Wisconsin) and Okike(University of Nigeria). She is the author of two children’s books: A Rainbow for Dinner (2003) and Ije at School (2003) published by Macmillan. She has also written two collections of poetry and her stories have been broadcast on the BBC World ServiceRadio Nigeria and other Commonwealth radio stations.

Unigwe is married to a Belgian, whom she met in her third year at Nsukka. In Turnhout, Belgium, where she lives with her husband and four children, she has also distinguished herself as a politician: she was voted city councillor in the country’s October 2006 elections.

Watch: A video on On Black Sisters' Street, which won the NLNG Literature Prize in 2012

Sources

  1. Chika Unigwe's website
  2. Dutch Foundation for Literature
  3. Daily Times
  4. South Bank Centre Literature and Spoken Word Community
  5. Geosi Reads
  6. Yahoo! Voices

Picture sources: Romance Meets Life and LiteraturhausStuttgard