“Risky, dazzling, imaginative and bold”: Irenosen Okojie wins AKO Caine prize

Published by Florence McCrae on August 1st 2020, 10:10am

Irenosen Okojie has won the AKO Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story following a Grace Jones impersonator across London.

Okojie, whose previous works Butterfly Fish and Speak Gigantular, have also received critical acclaim, credits her most recent win with giving her “extra confidence”, confessing that she felt as if she was “operating on the fringes” before.

She notes: “I write weird experimental fiction. And I think it’s really important to centre experimental fiction by a black woman like myself, because for a long time, I felt like I was operating on the fringes. People were often quite surprised by my writing, just in terms of subject matter and style,” continuing, “When we talk about what’s an African story, stories like mine show it’s really diverse and varied.”

The competition’s judges noted that Okojie’s work was “a radical story that plays with logic, time and place”, and said it was “risky, dazzling, imaginative and bold”.

Director of The Africa Centre and the prize chair of judges, Kenneth Olumuyiwa Tharp, wrote that Okojie’s piece “moves exquisitely and seamlessly between the exploration of the universal experiences of unspeakable suffering, pleasure and escape, and the particular experience of being black and African in a global city such as London”.

Okojie is in the process of writing her second novel but feels writing short stories are more of a “feverish” process that are filled with a “sense of urgency”.

She concludes: “We’re all human and it’s about showing the breadth and scope of our humanity as well, forcing people to think empathetically about characters they may not necessarily have empathy for.”

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