Nigerian author Lesley Arimah has won the 2019 Caine Prize for African Writing for her short story Skinned. Arimah’s win came after appearing on the shortlist for the third time on the Caine Prize. She was shortlisted alongside Meron Hadero (Ethiopia) for ‘The Wall’, Cherrie Kandie (Kenya) for ‘Sew My Mouth’, Ngwah-Mbo Nana Nkweti (Cameroon) for ‘It Takes A Village Some Say’, and Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor (Nigeria) for ‘All Our Lives’.
Arimah’s story was first published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern (Issue 53). A statement by Caine Prize said, “‘Skinned’ envisions a society in which young girls are ceremonially ‘uncovered’ and must marry in order to regain the right to be clothed. It tells the story of Ejem, a young woman uncovered at the age of fifteen yet ‘unclaimed’ in adulthood, and her attempts to negotiate a rigidly stratified society following the breakdown of a protective friendship with the married Chidinma. With a wit, prescience, and a wicked imagination, ‘Skinned’ is a bold and unsettling tale of bodily autonomy and womanhood, and the fault lines along which solidarities are formed and broken.”
In 2016, Arimah was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for her short story which became the title story of her collection of short stories, ‘What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky.’ In 2017, Arimah’s ‘Who Will Greet You At Home’ which was shortlisted for the prize was first published in the New Yorker.
Btw WHAT IT MEANS WHEN A MAN FALLS FROM THE SKY is $1.99 on your preferred ebook platform 🤸🏿♂️ (idk when it ends)
— Lesley Nneka Arimah (@larimah) January 17, 2019
In her acceptance speech Arimah said, “When I think of what literature can do, and I think of the ways that literature has changed minds and opened imaginations, I want to say that we African writers must centre the African gaze. We must centre the Nigerian gaze, the Cameroonian gaze, the Ethiopian gaze, the Kenyan gaze. We need to be writing to and for each other, and we also need to play. And what I mean by play is that when one knows a thing inside and out, say cooking, the chefs who do fusion cooking do so because they know both cuisines that they are using intimately. I think of experimentation as the sign of expertise. And I think it’s important we continue as we have started, as we have been, as we are doing always, that we continue to play within the bounds of our literatures. And I emphasise “each other” because, yes, we must centre the African gaze.”
The £10,000 prize is the most prestigious literary award for a short story on the continent. Dr Peter Kimani, the Chair of Judges when announcing the prize said, “The winner of this year’s Caine Prize for African Writing is a unique retake of women’s struggle for inclusion in a society regulated by rituals. Lesley Nneka Arimah’s Skinned defamiliarizes the familiar to topple social hierarchies, challenge traditions and envision new possibilities for women of the world. Using a sprightly diction, she invents a dystopian universe inhabited by unforgettable characters where friendship is tested, innocence is lost, and readers gain a new understanding of life.”