Lesley Nneka Arimah was announced the Caine Prize for African Writing 2019 winner for her short story Skinned at the University of London, UK on July 8, 2019.
The Caine Prize is awarded annually for a short story by an African writer published in English. It is named after the late Sir Michael Caine, former Chairman of Booker plc and Chairman of the Booker Prize management committee for nearly 25 years. Previous winners have been Leila Aboulela (2000), Helon Habila (2001), Binyavanga Wainaina (2002), Yvonne Owuor (2003), Brian Chikwava (2004), Segun Afolabi (2005), Mary Watson (2006), Monica Arac de Nyeko (2007), Henrietta Rose-Innes (2008), EC Osondu (2009), Olufemi Terry (2010), NoViolet Bulawayo (2011), Rotimi Babatunde (2012), Tope Folarin (2013), Okwiri Oduor (2014), Namwali Serpell (2015), Lidudumalingani Mqobothi (2016), Bushra al-Fadil (2017), and Makena Onjerika (2018).
Lesley Nneka Arimah’s award-winning story Skinned, published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, 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.
Announcing the award was Kenyan author and poet Dr Peter Kimani alongside his judging panel of Sefi Atta, Margie Orford, Scott Taylor, and Olufemi Terry. Dr Kimani 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 defamiliarises 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.”
Speaking on winning the award, at the third try, Lesley Nneka Arimah said, “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.” She also stated, “I think of experimentation as the sign of expertise and I think that we must continue, as we have been doing, to play within the bounds of our literatures, within the bounds of our cultures, within the bounds of our worlds.”
‘Skinned’ is available to read now on the Caine Prize website.
A special anniversary anthology containing all winning stories throughout the history of the Caine Prize will be published later this year.