Ben Okri was born in Minna in west central Nigeria to Grace and Silver Okri in 1959. Okri is considered one of the foremost African authors in the post-modern and post-colonial traditions.

He won the Man Booker Prize for The Famished Road (1991), and he has received numerous accolades for his works. The list of nominations and awards include: 1987 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region, Best Book) – Incidents at the Shrine, 1988 Guardian Fiction Prize – Stars of the New Curfew (shortlisted), and 2001 Order of the British Empire (OBE). The writer has received numerous honorary doctoral awards over the years for his remarkable literary works.

We celebrate the birth of one Africa’s foremost novelist with his 10 quotes.

1. “Sometimes it seems that awful things in history happen to compel us to achieve the impossible, to challenge our idea of humanity”.

2. “The magician and the politician have much in common: they both have to draw our attention away from what they are really doing”.

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3. “I was told stories, we were all told stories as kids in Nigeria. We had to tell stories that would keep one another interested, and you weren’t allowed to tell stories that everybody else knew. You had to dream up new ones.”

Famous Ben Okri quote. Photo: Alessandro Lucia/Flickr

4. “When a people overcome the impossible, they achieve eventually a kind of evolutionary shift and epistemological break. They realise, eventually, deep in their souls something powerful about their will: they are never quite the same people again”. Steve Biko Lecture: 2012.

On storytelling

5. “The fact of storytelling hints at a fundamental human unease, hints at human imperfection. Where there is perfection there is no story to tell”.

On Steve Biko: The Father of Black Consciousness Movement

6. If he [Steve Biko] were here today he might well ask such questions: Is the society just? Are we being truthful about one another? Has there been a real change of attitudes and assumptions on both sides of the racial divide?” Steve Biko Lecture: 2012.

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7. “We need to reincarnate Biko’s rigour, his high-standards and his forensic questioning of society and of all of his assumptions. We need to keep alive Biko’s fierce and compassionate truthfulness. In fact, we need Biko’s spirit now more than ever. If he were here today he might well ask such questions: Is the society just? Are we being truthful about one another? Has there been a real change of attitudes and assumptions on both sides of the racial divide?” Steve Biko Lecture: 2012.

On Black Consciousness

8. “To me Black Consciousness means equality, freedom, community, grassroot transformation, but it also means excellence, humanity, foresight, wisdom, and a transcendence of our weakness and our flaws”. Steve Biko Lecture: 2012.

On reading

9. “Reading, therefore, is a co-production between writer and reader. The simplicity of this tool is astounding. So little, yet out of it whole worlds, eras, characters, continents, people never encountered before, people you wouldn’t care to sit next to in a train, people that don’t exist, places you’ve never visited, enigmatic fates, all come to life in the mind, painted into existence by the reader’s creative powers. In this way the creativity of the writer calls up the creativity of the reader. Reading is never passive”.

10. “Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger”.