Nigerian author, Ben Okri is one of Africa’s most prolific and celebrated authors with a writing career that dates back more than thirty years. He is best known for two of his books – Incidents at the Shrine, which won the 1987 Commonwealth Writers Prize, Africa region for Best Book, and The Famished Road, which won the 1991 Booker Prize for Fiction.
Born in 1959, in Minna, Nigeria, to an Igbo mother, Grace, and an Urhobo father, Okri spent part of his early childhood in England, where his father studied law. The Okris returned to Lagos, Nigeria in mid-1960s, where Silver Okri (Ben’s father) set up a law practice. This was at a time when the country was engulfed by the Biafra War. As a child, Okri witnessed firsthand the violence that rocked his country during the war – an experience that influenced much of his early writing.
At an early age, Okri picked an interest in reading, encouraged by his mother, Grace Okri, who told him many African stories. After completing his high school, he worked as a clerk at a paint store.
In 1978, he left Nigeria on a government scholarship to study comparative literature at Essex University in England. He failed to complete his studies for lack of funds, and for many years he struggled to make ends meet.
He wrote his first novel, Flowers and Shadows in 1980. Between 1983 and 1986, he was poetry editor for West Africa magazine. He also did work for the BBC World Service. In 1991, he was appointed Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College Cambridge, a post he held until 1993. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1987, and was awarded honorary doctorates from the universities of Westminster (1997) and Essex (2002).
Okri, who comes from a generation of writers that followed the likes of Chinua Achebe, has enjoyed considerable literary success publishing over ten novels and numerous short stories, poems and essays. Besides the Booker and Commonwealth Writers’ prizes, he has also received many other honors, including the Paris Review Aga Khan prize for fiction, the Chrystal Award by the World Economic Forum, the Chianti Rufino-Antico Fattore International Literary Prize, and the Premio Grinzane Cavour. His books have been translated into more than 20 languages.
He is a former board member of the Royal Society of Literature, and he has served as a vice-president of the writers’ association English PEN. In 2001 he was awarded an OBE. Okri is currently based in London.
Okri’s latest book, A Time for New Dreams was released April 7, 2011.
Selected Books by Ben Okri
- Flowers and Shadows (1980)
- The Landscapes Within (1981)
- Incidents at the Shrine (1986)
- Stars of the New Curfew (1988)
- The Famished Road(1991)
- Songs of Enchantment (1993)
- Infinite Riches (1998)
- Astonishing the Gods (1995)
- Dangerous Love (1996
- In Arcadia (2002
- Starbook (2007).
- Tales of Freedom (2009)
- A Time for New Dreams(2011)