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Lesley Nneka Arimah’s short story collection, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky, and Zinzi Clemmons’ novel, What We Lose, are finalists for the $35,000 Aspen Words Literary Prize. They are joined by three other novels: Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, Samrat Upadhyay’s Mad Country, and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing. Alain Mabanckou’s eleventh novel, Black Moses, had been on the longlist.

Organized by Aspen Words, the annual Aspen Words Literary Prize rewards “an influential work of fiction focused on vital contemporary issues.” It is in its inaugural year.

Here is what the organisers had to say about the books:

Lesley Nneka Arimah’s collection of stories marks the debut of a truly remarkable talent.  The tales she spins, set mostly in her native Nigeria and in the United States, are told with rare and stunning beauty. Whether describing a post-apocalyptic future, a battle of the spirits, or tension between a mother and daughter, her writing is poignant and rich, full of staggering images and stunning twists.  But even her bleakest portraits of pain are marked by a nourishing belief in the virtue of perseverance and the power of hope.

In “What We Lose,” Zinzi Clemmons has crafted a profound and formally daring novel about a young woman reconciling herself to the death of her South African-born mother. Clemmons writes with deep intelligence and tremendous emotional force about loss, about identity, about family, and about the subtle ways social structures intrude upon the space we try to carve out for ourselves and for those we love.

The finalists will participate in a moderated conversation at the Awards Ceremony on April 10 in New York City, where the winner will be announced.

Lesley Nneka Arimah’s What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky received the $50,000 Kirkus Prize for Fiction last year and is a finalist for the 2018 9Mobile Prize for Literature. In 2017, Zinzi Clemmons’ What We Lose was a finalist for the NBCC John Leonard First Book Prize Finalist and was longlisted for the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. Both women were selected for the US National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honours.

Congratulations to Zinzi Clemmons and Lesley Nneka Arimah.


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Otosirieze Nnaemekaram 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 for which he was shortlisted ("You Sing of a Longing," 2017). 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 cities in Nigeria. 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 Pop Culture, and teaches English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. He has completed a collection of short stories and is working on a 600-page novel. 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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