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There is a saying that most of us have our doppelgangers, those other people whose faces puzzlingly, frighteningly, humourously look just like ours. In the past months, attention has been drawn to non-famous people who resemble such celebrities as Lionel Messi and Kim Kardashian. But even famous people can resemble each other, like Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley.

Today, we’re highlighting two Caine Prize winning and nominated writers who look just like two famous actresses, who together represent four countries: Zambia, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Uganda.

Sample 1: Namwali Serpell and Ruth Negga

Oscar-nominated Ethiopian-Irish actress Ruth Negga (left) and Caine Prize-winning Zambian writer Namwali Serpell (right) look alike.

We know Namwali Serpell, who is Zambian. We’ve known her for the past eight years, from the first time she appeared on the Caine Prize shortlist in 2010 to her second time when she won in 2015. We know she’s not only one of our most accomplished prose stylists but also an ambitious essayist. And we do know Ruth Negga, who is Ethiopian-Irish. We know her from those cool-headed performances in World War Z and Loving, the last of which got her a Best Actress Oscar nomination this year. But we also know Negga from books. We did a feature on her reading from Zadie Smith’s novel Swing Time.

And now we know they look alike: cherubic eyes, lovely cheekbones, enthralling facial beauty. What are the odds of a brilliant Zambian writer and a brilliant Ethiopian actress resembling each other?

Namwali Serpell (left), Ruth Negga (right).

We get the feeling that without captions most people would struggle to identify each woman.

Ruth Negga (left), Namwali Serpell (right).

Sample 2: Arinze Ifeakandu and Madina Nalwanga

Caine Prize-shortlisted Nigerian writer Arinze Ifeakandu (left) and Ugandan actress Nalwanga Madina, star of Queen of Katwe (right).

This one, the strangest of them all, is a case we’ve known since mid-2016 when the trailer for Queen of Katwe was released.

Nigeria’s Arinze Ifeakandu—2013 Farafina Workshop alumni, 2015 A Public Space Emerging Writer Fellow, 2015 BN Poetry Award finalist, 2017 Caine Prize shortlistee—is, at 22, one of the torchbearers for the New Generation of writers. We know him too well, from his memoir, his nonfiction, and every other time we’ve featured his work.

Uganda’s Madina Nalwanga, star of Queen of Katwe in which she plays the chess prodigy Phiona Mutesi alongside Lupita Nyong’o and David Oyelowo, is only 17 and one of the most talented child actors on the continent.

Both look set for big careers.

Arinze Ifeakandu (left), Nalwanga Madina (right).

Were it not that Arinze is male and has hairs on his jaw and Madina is female and wears lipstick and earrings and a darker, shiny skin, we might have a real struggle in telling them apart: same low cut hair, same eyebrow curve, same nose, same childlike innocence—how did this happen?

Arinze Ifeakandu (left), Nalwanga Madina (right).

Research Finding

The Caine Prize has a knack for honouring writers who look like actresses. But the writers must come from countries far away from that of their lookalike.

This means that the 2018 Caine Prize will be won by a Ghanaian or Congolese who looks like Lupita Nyong’o. Or a Sudanese or South African who looks like Idris Elba.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, an academic, and Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review ("Mulumba," 2016), Transition ("A Tenderer Blessing," 2015), and in an anthology of the Gerald Kraak Award ("You Sing of a Longing," 2017), for which he was shortlisted. His work has further been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship in 2016 and a Pushcart Prize in 2015. He attended the 2018 Miles Morland Foundation Creative Writing Workshop facilitated by Giles Foden. He is the curator of the Art Naija Series, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness. The first, Enter Naija: The Book of Places (October, 2016), focuses on Nigerian cities. The second, Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (June, 2017), focuses on professions in Nigeria. He studied history and literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is currently completing a postgraduate programme in African Studies, and teaches English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. When bored, he just Googles Rihanna.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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