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The Writer’s Almanac for March 15, 2017: Home

Mar. 15, 2017: birthday: Ben Okri

It’s the birthday of novelist and poet Ben Okri (books by this author), born in Minna, Nigeria (1959). He lived mainly in England until he was seven years old, when his family moved back to Nigeria. He grew up surrounded by storytellers; he said: “We are a people who are massaged by fictions; we grow up in a sea of narratives and myths, the perpetual invention of stories. … Your mother would tell you stories to illustrate a hundred different points, lessons, morals she wanted to get across to you. Or you’d tell stories to one another as a way of making the moonlight more intoxicating, more beautiful.”

Okri moved to London in 1977, living for a time in subway stations and with friends. He published more novels and short stories, but he didn’t really get much attention until his novel The Famished Road came out in 1991. It’s about a Nigerian child who hovers between the real world and the world of spirits, and it describes the horrible poverty and oppression in modern Nigeria. The Famished Road won the Booker Prize for Britain’s best novel in 1991.

Okri said: “Literature doesn’t have a country. Shakespeare is an African writer. … The characters of Turgenev are ghetto dwellers. Dickens’ characters are Nigerians. … Literature may come from a specific place, but it always lives in its own unique kingdom.”

His latest collection of poetry is titled Wild (2012).