Chigozie Obioma (born 1986) is a Nigerian writer. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor of literature and creative writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He has been called, in a New York Times book review, “the heir to Chinua Achebe.” In 2015, he was named one of “100 Global Thinkers” by Foreign Policy magazine.
Early life and influences
Of Igbo descent, Obioma was born into a family of 12 children — seven brothers and four sisters – in Akure, in the southwestern part of Nigeria, where he grew up speaking Yoruba, Igbo, and English. As a child, he was fascinated by Greek myths and the British masters, including Shakespeare, John Milton, and John Bunyan. Among African writers, he developed a strong affinity for Wole Soyinka’s The Trials of Brother Jero; Cyprian Ekwensi’s An African Night’s Entertainment; Camara Laye’s The African Child; and D. O. Fagunwa’s Ògbójú Ọdẹ nínú Igbó Irúnmalẹ̀, which he read in its original Yoruba version. Obioma cites his seminal influences as The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola, for its breath of imagination; Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, for its enduring grace and heart; The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, both for the power of their prose; and Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe, for its firmness in Igbo culture and philosophy.
His first novel,The Fishermen, is being translated into 22 languages and has received several awards. In addition to being listed as a 2015 New York Times Sunday Book Review Notable Book and a New York Times Sunday Book Review Editor’s Choice selection, The Fishermen was named a best book of the year for 2015 by the UK Observer, The Economist, The Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, Apple/iBook, Book Riot, the Minnesota Star Tribune, NPR, Library Journal, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the New Zealand Listener, Relevant Magazine, British GQ, and others. The Fishermen was also named of the American Library Association’s five best debuts of spring 2015, a Publishers Weekly book of the week, and one of Kirkus Reviews′ “10 Novels to Lose Yourself In.”
Obioma states that, in addition to being a tribute to his siblings, the novel aims to “build a portrait of Nigeria at a very seminal moment in its history (the annulled presidential elections of 1993), and by so doing deconstruct and illuminate the ideological potholes that still impede the nation’s progress even today.” He began writing the novel in 2009, while living in Cyprus to complete his bachelor’s degree at Cyprus International University, where he graduated first in his class. The idea for the novel came when he reflected on his father’s joy at the growing bond between his two eldest brothers who, as children, had maintained a strong rivalry that would sometimes culminate in fistfights. As Obioma began pondering what was the worst that could have happened at that time, the image of the Agwu family came to him. Then he created Abulu as the facilitator of conflict between the brothers. On a larger thematic note, Obioma wanted the novel to comment on the socio-political situation of Nigeria: the prophesying madman here being the British, and the recipients of the vision being the people of Nigeria (three major tribes cohabiting to form a nation).
Obioma finished the novel during a residency at OMI’s Ledig House in 2012, and completed an MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Michigan, where he received Hopwood Awards for fiction (2013) and poetry (2014).
Obioma’s short story version of The Fishermen and a poem, “The Road to the Country,” appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review. His short story, “The Great Convert,” was published in Transition magazine and “Midnight Sun” appeared in New Statesman. He has also published several essays: “The Audacity of Prose” in The Millions; “Teeth Marks: The Translator’s Dilemma in Poets & Writers; “The Ghosts of My Student Years in Northern Cyprus” and “Lagos is expected to double in size in 15 years: how will my city possibly cope?” in The Guardian;
Obioma is currently working on his second novel titled The Falconer.
Awards and honors
- Winner, FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Award
- Winner, NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Debut Author
- Winner, Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction
- Winner, Nebraska Book Award For Fiction 2016
- Winner, Earphone Award for the Audiobook ofThe Fishermen
- Finalist, 2015 Man Booker Prize
- Finalist, Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
- Finalist, Edinburgh Festival First Book Award
- Finalist, The Guardian First Book Award
- Finalist, British Book Industry Award for Best Debut Fiction
- Finalist, Best Debut Goodreads Author Award
- Longlisted, International Dylan Thomas Prize
- “FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Award Finalists”. Emerging Voices 2015. 5 October 2015.
- “NAACP Image Awards – Inside the Show”. www.naacpimageawards.net. Retrieved 2016-04-10.
- “Los Angeles Times – Festival of Books”. Festival of Books. Retrieved 2016-04-10.
- “THE FISHERMEN by Chigozie Obioma Read by Chukwudi Iwuji | Audiobook Review | AudioFile Magazine”. AudioFile Magazine. Retrieved 2016-06-05.
- “Man Booker Prize announces 2015 shortlist”. themanbookerprize.com.
- “Announcing the Short List for the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize”. The Center for Fiction.
- “First Book Award”. Edinburgh International Book Festival. 2015.
- “Guardian first book award shortlist 2015”, The Guardian, 13 November 2015.
- “2016 Shortlist | The Bookseller”. www.thebookseller.com. Retrieved 2016-06-05.
- “Best Debut Goodreads Author 2015 — Goodreads Choice Awards”. Goodreads. Retrieved 2016-06-05.
- “Longlist announced for 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize”. www.swansea.ac.uk. Retrieved 2016-06-05.