Nigerian writer Lesley Nneka Arimah has won the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing – often described as Africa’s leading literary award, for her short story entitled “Skinned”, published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern (Issue 53) 2018.
Dr. Peter Kimani, Chair of Judges announced Lesley as the winner of the £10,000 prize at an award dinner this evening (Monday 8 July). The ceremony was held for the third time in Senate House, in partnership with SOAS and the Centre for African Studies.
‘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.
Announcing the award, 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.”
Arimah is a 2019 United States Artists Fellow in Writing. She lives in Las Vegas and is working on a novel about you.