Nnedi Okorafor

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Nnedi Okorafor
Nnedi Okorafor with insects.jpg
Nnedi Okorafor
Born (1974-04-08) April 8, 1974 (age 44)
Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
Alma mater
Known forWriter, professor
Awards Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa
The World Fantasy Award
Nebula Award for Best Novella
Hugo Award for Best Novella
Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa
Carl Brandon Parallax Award
Children's Africana Book Award

Nnedi Okorafor (full name: Nnedimma Nkemdili Okorafor; previously known as Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu; translated from Igbo into English as "mother is good"; [1] born April 8, 1974) [2] is a Nigerian-American writer of fantasy and science fiction for both children and adults. She is best known for Binti , Who Fears Death , Zahrah the Windseeker , and Akata Witch .

Fantasy genre of literature, film, television and other artforms

Fantasy is a genre of speculative fiction set in a fictional universe, often inspired by real world myth and folklore. Its roots are in oral traditions, which then became literature and drama. From the twentieth century it has expanded further into various media, including film, television, graphic novels and video games.

Science fiction Genre of speculative fiction

Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction, typically dealing with imaginative and futuristic concepts such as advanced science and technology, space exploration, time travel, and extraterrestrial life. Science fiction often explores the potential consequences of scientific and other innovations, and has been called a "literature of ideas."

<i>Binti</i> (novel) novella by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti is a science fiction novella written by Nnedi Okorafor. The novella was published in 2015 by Tor.com. Binti is the first novella in Okorafor's Binti novella series.


Background and personal life

Okorafor's parents traveled to America to go to school, but they could not return to Nigeria because of the Nigerian Civil War. [3] The American-born daughter of Igbo Nigerian parents, Okorafor has been visiting Nigeria since she was very young.

Nigerian Civil War conflict

The Nigerian Civil War, also known as the Biafran War and the Nigerian-Biafran War, was a war fought between the government of Nigeria and the secessionist state of Biafra. Biafra represented nationalist aspirations of the Igbo people, whose leadership felt they could no longer coexist with the Northern-dominated federal government. The conflict resulted from political, economic, ethnic, cultural and religious tensions which preceded Britain's formal decolonization of Nigeria from 1960 to 1963. Immediate causes of the war in 1966 included a military coup, a counter-coup and persecution of Igbo living in Northern Nigeria. Control over the lucrative oil production in the Niger Delta played a vital strategic role.

During her years attending Homewood-Flossmoor High School in Flossmoor, IL, Okorafor was a nationally-known tennis and track star, [4] and excelled in math and the sciences. Due to her interest in insects, she desired to be an entomologist. [5]

Homewood-Flossmoor High School public secondary school in Flossmoor, Illinois, United States

Homewood-Flossmoor High School (H-F) is a comprehensive public high school in Flossmoor, Illinois, in the Chicago metropolitan area. The district encompasses nearly 11.5 square miles, drawing students from the communities of Homewood, Flossmoor, Chicago Heights, Glenwood, Hazel Crest, and Olympia Fields. It serves residents of elementary school districts 153, 161 and 167, with James Hart School, Mardell M. Parker Junior High School, and Brookwood Junior High School being feeder schools.

She was diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 13, a condition that worsened as she grew older. At age 19, she underwent spinal fusion surgery to straighten and fuse her spine; a rare complication led to Okorafor becoming paralyzed from the waist down. [4]

Scoliosis spinal medical condition

Scoliosis is a medical condition in which a person's spine has a sideways curve. The curve is usually "S"- or "C"-shaped. In some, the degree of curve is stable, while in others, it increases over time. Mild scoliosis does not typically cause problems, while severe cases can interfere with breathing. Typically, no pain is present.

Spinal fusion

Spinal fusion, also called spondylodesis or spondylosyndesis, is a neurosurgical or orthopedic surgical technique that joins two or more vertebrae. This procedure can be performed at any level in the spine and prevents any movement between the fused vertebrae. There are many types of spinal fusion and each technique involves using bone grafting—either from the patient (autograft), donor (allograft), or artificial bone substitutes—to help the bones heal together. Additional hardware is often used to hold the bones in place while the graft fuses the two vertebrae together.

Okorafor turned to writing small stories in the margins of a science-fiction book that she had. It was the first time she had ever written anything creatively. That summer, with intense physical therapy, Okorafor regained her ability to walk, but she was unable to continue her athletic career, using a cane to walk. At the suggestion of a close friend, she took a creative writing class that spring semester, and was writing her first novel by the semester's end.

Okorafor holds a master's degree in journalism from Michigan State and a master's degree and PhD in English from the University of Illinois, Chicago. She is a 2001 graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop in Lansing, Michigan. She currently lives in Olympia Fields, Illinois, [6] with her family.

Lansing, Michigan Capital of Michigan

Lansing is the capital of the U.S. state of Michigan. It is mostly in Ingham County, although portions of the city extend west into Eaton County and north into Clinton County. The 2010 Census placed the city's population at 114,297, making it the fifth largest city in Michigan. The population of its Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) was 464,036, while the even larger Combined Statistical Area (CSA) population, which includes Shiawassee County, was 534,684. It was named the new state capital of Michigan in 1847, ten years after Michigan became a state.

Olympia Fields, Illinois Village in Illinois, United States

Olympia Fields is a village in Cook County, Illinois, United States. The population was 4,988 at the 2010 census. The municipality grew up around the prestigious Olympia Fields Country Club, originally established in 1915.


Short stories

Okorafor received a 2001 Hurston-Wright literary award [7] for her story "Amphibious Green." Okorafor's short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines, including Dark Matter: Reading The Bones , Enkare Review , Strange Horizons , Moondance magazine, and Writers of the Future Volume XVIII. A collection of her stories, titled Kabu Kabu, was published by Prime Books in 2013. It includes the titular piece, co-authored by Alan Dean Foster, and six other previously unpublished short stories, as well as 14 stories that had been previously published in other venues since 2001, and a foreword by Whoopi Goldberg. [8]

<i>Enkare Review</i>

Enkare Review is a Nairobi-based literary magazine established in August 2016. In its short period of existence, it has published Taiye Selasi, Junot Díaz, Maaza Mengiste, Zukiswa Wanner, Namwali Serpell, Richard Ali, Lidudumalingani, Jericho Brown, Harriet Anena, Beverley Nambozo, Leila Aboulela, Nnedi Okorafor, Stanley Onjezani Kenani, Tendai Huchu, Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún among others, and interviews with prolific African writer Chuma Nwokolo; and The New Yorker Editor, David Remnick

Strange Horizons is an online speculative fiction magazine. It also features speculative poetry and nonfiction in every issue, including reviews, essays, interviews, and roundtables.

Moondance is an online international women's literary, culture and art journal. The magazine began in 1996.

Novels and novellas

After her 2001 Hurston-Wright award, she then published two acclaimed books for young adults, The Shadow Speaker (Hyperion/Disney Book Group) and Zahrah the Windseeker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Zahrah won the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. It was also shortlisted for the 2005 Carl Brandon Parallax and Kindred Awards and a finalist for the Garden State Teen Book Award and the Golden Duck Award. The Shadow Speaker was a winner of the Carl Brandon Parallax Award, a Booksense Pick for Winter 2007/2008, a Tiptree Honor Book, [9] a finalist for the Essence Magazine Literary Award, the Andre Norton Award and the Golden Duck Award and an NAACP Image Award nominee. Okorafor's children's book Long Juju Man was the 2007–08 winner of the Macmillan Writer's Prize for Africa. [10]

Okorafor's first adult novel, Who Fears Death (DAW/Penguin Books), won the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, [11] was a 2011 Tiptree Honor Book and was nominated for the 2010 Nebula Award. [12] In 2011 she returned to young adult with Akata Witch (Viking/Penguin), which was a Junior Library Guild Selection, and nominated for the Andre Norton Award. It was also on the American Library Association's Amelia Bloomer Project list honoring children's books with feminist themes.

Okorafor's science fiction novel Lagoon was a finalist for a British Science Fiction Association Award (Best Novel) and a Red Tentacle Award (Best Novel) and a Tiptree Honor Book.

The Binti trilogy began with a 2015 novella, Binti . This was followed by Binti: Home, published in 2017, and Binti: The Night Masquerade, published in 2018. Binti won both the 2016 Nebula Award and 2016 Hugo Award for best novella, [13] [14] and was a finalist for a British Science Fiction Association Award (Best Short) and BooktubeSFF Award (Best Short Work). Bint: The Night Masquerade is nominated for the 2019 Hugo Award for best novella. [15]


In February 2017, Okorafor announced via Facebook her science-meets-witchcraft short story "Hello, Moto" was optioned by Nigerian production company Fiery Film. [16] [17] The story is being adapted into a short film, titled Hello, Rain by filmmaker, C. J. Obasi. [18] The story tells the tale of a woman who discovers that she can merge witchcraft and technology when she creates wigs for herself and her friends that allow them to wield influence and power, to help battle corruption. Instead, she watches her friends themselves become corrupted. [17] [19] A teaser was released in January 2018. [20] [21]

In July 2017, Okorafor announced via Twitter that Who Fears Death was picked up by HBO to become a TV series with novelist and Game of Thrones producer, George R.R. Martin, joining the project as an executive producer. [22] Okorafor will remain involved with the project as a consultant. [23]

Other work

In 2005, Okorafor wrote and published her first play, Full Moon. The Buxville Theater Company in Chicago helped produce this full-length theatrical work. [24]

In 2009 Okorafor donated her archive to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) Collection of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the Northern Illinois University Library. [25]

Okorafor was the Young Adult Author special Guest of Honor at Detcon 1, the 2014 North American Science Fiction Convention; Detcon1 was putting special emphasis on YA science fiction. [26]

She spoke at the TEDGlobal conference in Arusha, Tanzania, in August 2017. [27]

In October 2017, Okorafor announced via Twitter she would be writing three issues of Marvel's Black Panther comic book, picking up where author Ta-Nehisi Coates left off. "Black Panther: Long Live the King" is due out in late 2017. [28] A month earlier, Okorafor had a short comic entitled, "Blessing in Disguise," inspired by the 2014 Boko Haram kidnapping of over 200 Nigerian girls, released in Marvel's Venomverse War Stories No. 1 comic book. [29] In March 2017, it was announced that Okorafor would return to writing derived from the Black Panther, Wakanda Forever, where the Dora Milaje act in team-ups with Spider-Man, X-Men and Avengers. [30] In July, 2018, it announced that Okorafor would write a solo title of Shuri. [31]

Influences and themes

Okorafor's novels and stories reflect both her West African heritage and her American life. Rather than identifying as Nigerian-American, Okorafor refers to herself as "Nigamerican" and explains the importance of her dual heritage during a 2016 NPR interview:

That's very much a part of my identity, and it's also very much a reason why I think I ended up writing science fiction and fantasy because I live on these borders – and these borders that allow me to see from multiple perspectives and kind of take things in and then kind of process certain ideas and certain stories in a very unique way. And that has led me to write this strange fiction that I write, which really isn't that strange if you really look at it through a sort of skewed lens. [32]

Okorafor noticed how the fantasy and science fiction genre contain little diversity, and that was her motivation for writing books of these genres set in Africa. She wanted to include more people of color and create stories with Africa as the setting because so few stories were set there. She wrote her first story as a college sophomore and made the setting of her story Nigeria. [3] Her stories place black girls in important roles that are usually given to white characters. [5] Okorafor cites Nigeria as "her muse" as she is heavily influenced by Nigerian folklore and its rich mythology and mysticism. [5]

Gary K. Wolfe wrote of her work: "Okorafor's genius has been to find the iconic images and traditions of African culture, mostly Nigerian and often Igbo, and tweak them just enough to become a seamless part of her vocabulary of fantastika." [33]

Her work often looks at "weighty social issues: racial and gender inequality, political violence, the destruction of the environment, genocide and corruption" through "the framework of fantasy." [5]

Okorafor shares that while the themes of her stories are often multi-layered they are always grounded in "stories of the women and girls around me and also within myself." [32]

Okorafor asserts that her work and parental responsibility relates to each other because "writing and being a mother are a part of me, so they are mixed together and balance each other out." [34]

World Fantasy Award

Shortly after winning The World Fantasy Award in 2011, Okorafor published an essay "Lovecraft's racism & The World Fantasy Award statuette, with comments from China Miéville", in which she reflected upon her conflicting emotions on winning an award in the shape of a large silver bust of H.P. Lovecraft. Okorafor would later voice her support for Daniel José Older's 2014 petition [35] to replace the Lovecraft bust with one of Octavia Butler. In this piece, she acknowledges both the literary legacy of Lovecraft and his continued influence in the contemporary world of science fiction:

Do I want "The Howard" (the nickname for the World Fantasy Award statuette. Lovecraft's full name is "Howard Phillips Lovecraft") replaced with the head of some other great writer? Maybe. Maybe it's about that time. Maybe not. What I know I want is to face the history of this leg of literature rather than put it aside or bury it. If this is how some of the great minds of speculative fiction felt, then let's deal with that ... as opposed to never mention it or explain it away. [35]



Young Adult—writing as Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

Children—writing as Nnedi Okorafor

Young Adult—writing as Nnedi Okorafor

Adult—writing as Nnedi Okorafor

Selected filmography

See also

Related Research Articles

World Fantasy Award award

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The Carl Brandon Society is a group originating within the science fiction community "dedicated to addressing the representation of people of color in the fantastical genres such as science fiction, fantasy and horror... to foster dialogue about issues of race, ethnicity and culture, raise awareness both inside and outside the fantastical fiction communities, promote inclusivity in publication/production, and celebrate the accomplishments of people of color in science fiction, fantasy and horror."

<i>Zahrah the Windseeker</i> book by Nnedi Okorafor

Zahrah the Windseeker is young adult fantasy novel by Nigerian American writer Nnedi Okorafor, published in September 2005. It incorporates myths and folklore and culture of West Africa. It is the winner of the 2008 Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. Okorafor was born in the United States to two Nigerian (Igbo) parents.

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<i>The Shadow Speaker</i> book by Nnedi Okorafor

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