Ben Okri

Ben Okri is a Nigerian poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, aphorist, playwright, and screenwriter. His novel The Famished Road won the Booker Prize in 1991.

Born in Nigeria, Ben Okri relocated to England during his childhood years. While receiving education in London, he later returned to Nigeria alongside his parents on the brink of the Nigerian Civil War. This tumultuous conflict left an indelible mark on his life, shaping his path. Much of his early fiction explores the political violence that he witnessed at first hand during the civil war.

Following his secondary school education, he aspired to study physics and embark on a scientific career. However, his youthfulness rendered him ineligible for university at the time. He immersed himself in his father’s library, discovering his true calling through extensive reading.

Initiating his literary journey at a tender age, Okri initially ventured into the realm of poetry. Progressing to publishing articles and essays illuminating the living conditions of impoverished communities within Lagos, he later delved into short stories and eventually penned his inaugural novel, Flowers and Shadows.

Okri returned to London in 1987 and pursued Comparative Literature at Essex University. A mere two years later, his maiden novel saw publication, followed by his second work, The Landscapes Within, in 1982. Temporarily experiencing homelessness, he faced challenging circumstances.

In 1986, the compilation Incidents at the Shrine emerged as a collection of stories that garnered awards and solidified his reputation. Subsequently, a second compilation, Stars of the New Curfew, affirmed his status as a potent emerging voice.

However, it was in 1991 that he achieved international prominence with the release of The Famished Road. It was awarded the Booker Prize that year.

The novel has exerted a profound influence over subsequent decades. When President Clinton went to Africa for the first time, he quoted extensively from The Famished Road. The book also inspired Radiohead's Street Spirit and was referenced in an episode of American Dad. Its impact transcends literature, encompassing art, music, theater, film, and dance, resulting in its re-issue as a Vintage Classic.

The Famished Road is the first book in a trilogy that continues with Songs of Enchantment and Infinite Riches. Since then, Okri has penned numerous novels, volumes of poetry, and essay collections.

Ben Okri also holds a prominent place as a poet. He asserts that his artistic response to life finds its most authentic expression through poetry. The poetry collection, An African Elegy, encompasses his most renowned poems, including the titular piece, a staple in educational curricula, and To an English Friend in Africa.

The sweeping, Mental Fight, an epic poem, has garnered widespread readership and resonance. His diverse and affirming collection, Wild (2012), stands as a pinnacle of his poetic achievements. A Fire in My Head (2021) houses his poignant and politically charged verses, with Grenfell Tower, June 2017 amassing over 6 million listens on Channel Four's Facebook page.

In 2009 Okri introduced the Stoku, a hybrid amalgamation of the short story and haiku, showcased in his work Tales of Freedom, subsequently retitled The Comic Destiny. Notable excerpts from his oeuvre have permeated popular culture, appearing in television series like 'Criminal Minds.'

His essays wield substantial impact and readership. A Way of Being Free (1997) encapsulates his cherished reflections on the enchantment and potency of storytelling.

A Time for New Dreams, published in 2011, was the titular mascot of Grace Wells Bonner’s exhibition at the Serpentine in 2018. It also earned a personal endorsement from eminent artist David Hammons in a 2019 New Yorker profile.

Beyond his literary exploits, Okri has contributed to the realms of film scripts and theater. Notably, he authored the text for Peter Kruger's film N: The Madness of Reason, which secured the 2015 Ensor Award for Best Film.

Collaborating with Kruger, he is adapting his novel The Age of Magic into a screenplay. His stage work includes the play The Outsider, based on Camus' famous novel, which captivated audiences at the Coronet Theatre in September 2018 and won the 2018 Offiz Award for Best Theatre Production.

In 2020, Madame Sosostris, another play, triumphantly graced the stages of Pullof Theatres in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Bestowed with the honor of Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College, Cambridge, Okri also was Visiting Professor of Literature at Leicester University. An honorary Fellowship at Mansfield College, Oxford, further cements his legacy.

In 2019 his novel, Astonishing the Gods, was selected as one of the BBC’s ‘100 novels that shaped our world.’

In June 2023, Sir Ben Okri was awarded a knighthood in the King’s official birthday honours.

Ben Okri lives in London.

Photo credit: benokri.co.uk
years of life: 15 March 1959 present


b6982656339has quotedlast year
I seem to make my own misery.
b6982656339has quoted5 months ago
There’s wisdom in repetition, in going to the same place often, seeing the same painting again and again, re-reading a much loved book.’

‘Most people would say repetition is boring.’

‘The young maybe.’
Vanellopezaahas quotedlast year
People are afraid of what they dont know.
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