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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 is a writer, literary journalist, former academic, and Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. A judge for the 2019 Gerald Kraak Award, he is an editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective which has published two volumes: WE ARE FLOWERS and THE INWARD GAZE. He is the curator of ART NAIJA SERIES, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness: ENTER NAIJA: THE BOOK OF PLACES (October, 2016) focuses on cities in Nigeria; WORK NAIJA: THE BOOK OF VOCATIONS (June, 2017) focuses on professions in Nigeria. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition, and has been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship and the Gerald Kraak Award, both in 2016, and a Pushcart Prize in 2015. He attended the 2018 Miles Morland Foundation Creative Writing Workshop. He has completed a collection of short stories, YOU SING OF A LONGING, and is working on a novel. He is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He combined history and literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and taught English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. When bored, the boy just Googles Rihanna. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts editing and writing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze.

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