British-born Nigerian writer Lesley Nneka Arimah has won the 20th edition of the Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story ‘Skinned’.
She emerged from a shortlist of five writers, that also included another Nigerian, Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor, who wrote ”All Our Lives”.
Others 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’.
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 emphasised that African writers should centre the African gaze. To her fellow shortlisted writers, she said: “Your stories have added to the profile of African literature, adding the many voices that we need to illuminate who we are.
“When I think of what literature can do, and I think of the ways that literature has changed minds and opened imaginations, I want to say that we African writers must centre the African gaze. We must centre the Nigerian gaze, the Cameroonian gaze, the Ethiopean gaze, the Kenyan gaze. We need to be writing to and for each other, and we also need to play.
“And what I mean by play is that when one knows a thing inside and out, say cooking, the chefs who do fusion cooking do so because they know both cuisines that they are using intimately.
“I think of experimentation as the sign of expertise. And I think it’s important we continue as we have started, as we have been, as we are doing always, that we continue to play within the bounds of our literatures. And I emphasise “each other” because, yes, we must centre the African gaze. Thank you so much.”