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Lesley Nneka Arimah. Photo credit: The Caine Prize.

Lesley Nneka Arimah has been awarded the $50,000 Kirkus Prize for Fiction for her short story collection What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, beating Mohsin Hamid’s Booker-shortlisted novel Exit West and English PEN Deputy President Hari Kunzru’s White Fears.

Given in the fiction, nonfiction and children’s literature categories, the Kirkus Prizes consider only books that had received a starred review from Kirkus Review.

The judges described Arimah’s book as “kaleidoscopic and emotionally powerful,” stating that her “stylistic breadth and intelligence are evident on every page of this masterful debut.”

A dazzlingly accomplished debut collection explores the ties that bind parents and children, husbands and wives, lovers and friends to one another and to the places they call home.

In “Who Will Greet You at Home,” a National Magazine Award finalist for The New Yorker, A woman desperate for a child weaves one out of hair, with unsettling results. In “Wild,” a disastrous night out shifts a teenager and her Nigerian cousin onto uneasy common ground. In “The Future Looks Good,” three generations of women are haunted by the ghosts of war, while in “Light,” a father struggles to protect and empower the daughter he loves. And in the title story, in a world ravaged by flood and riven by class, experts have discovered how to “fix the equation of a person” – with rippling, unforeseen repercussions.

Evocative, playful, subversive, and incredibly human, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky heralds the arrival of a prodigious talent with a remarkable career ahead of her.

This continues Arimah’s astounding year. In April, her short story, “Who Will Greet You at Home?,” was shortlisted for Best Short Story at the inaugural Nommo Awards. In May, the story was then shortlisted for the Caine Prize. In June, one of the stories in the collection,”Glory,” won her an O.Henry Prize. In September, Arimah became the fourth African fiction writer to be picked for the US National Book Foundation’s “5 Under 35” listWhat It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky is currently a finalist for the Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize and is, most recently, nominated in the Fiction Category of Goodreads’ 2017 Awards.

Winner of the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa Region for her short story “Light,” the title story of Arimah’s collection, “What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky,” was shortlisted for the 2016 Caine Prize. “Who Will Greet You at Home?,” published in The New Yorker, was nominated for a 2016 National Magazine Award. Arimah is the recipient of grants and awards from Commonwealth Writers, AWP, the Elizabeth George Foundation, and the Jerome Foundation. Her novel, The Children of Bones, is forthcoming from Riverhead Books.

Congratulations to Lesley Nneka Arimah!

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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. His conversations appear in Africa in Dialogue, Bakwa, SPRINNG, and Dwartonline. 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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