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Nnedi Okorafor
Born: April 08, 1974 in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
Other Names: Okorafor-Mbachu, Nnedi
Nationality: American
Occupation: Writer
Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit, MI: Gale, 2018. From Literature Resource Center.
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2019 Gale, a Cengage Company
Updated:Nov. 4, 2019
 
PERSONAL INFORMATION:

Born April 8, 1974, in Cincinnati, OH; married (divorced, 2008); children: Anyaugo (daughter). Education: University of Illinois, B.A., 1996; Michigan State University, M.S.J., 1999; University of Illinois, Chicago, M.A., 2002, Ph.D., 2007.

 
CAREER:

Governors State University, University Park, IL, adjunct professor of English, 2002-03; University of Illinois, Chicago, teaching assistant, 2003-07; Chicago State University, Chicago, visiting professor, 2008-09, assistant professor of creative writing, 2009-14; University of Buffalo, Buffalo, NY, professor of creative writing and literature, beginning 2014.

 
AWARDS:

Goodnow Entertainment Award, Chicago Bar Association, 2003, for "The Awakening"; Readers' Choice Award for nonfiction, Strange Horizons, 2005, for "Stephen King's Super Duper Magical Negroes"; Wole Soyinka Prize, 2008, for Zahrah the Windseeker; short-story contest winner, Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism, for "Biafra"; Junior Award, Macmillan Writers Prize for Africa, 2008; Special Recognition Award, University of Illinois, 2009; Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa, 2011, for Zahrah the Windseeker; Young Adult Author special Guest of Honor, Detcon, North American Science Fiction Convention, 2014; Nebula Award for best novella, 2015, and Hugo Award for best novella, 2016, Nommo Award for Best Novella, 2017, all for Binti; Best Young Adult Book Prize, Locus Awards, Best Yong Adult Book, World Science Fiction Society (WSFS), both 2018, both for Akata Warrior; best comic/graphic novel prize (with Leonardo Romero), Nommo Awards, 2019, for Shuri.

 
WORKS:

WRITINGS:

  • (As Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu) Zahrah the Windseeker (young adult novel), Houghton Mifflin (Boston, MA), 2005.
  • Full Moon (play), produced in Chicago, IL, 2005.
  • (As Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu) The Shadow Speaker (young adult novel), Jump at the Sun/Hyperion Books for Children (New York, NY), 2007.
  • Long Juju Man (children's book), Macmillan (New York, NY), 2009.
  • Who Fears Death, DAW Books (New York, NY), 2010.
  • Akata Witch (young adult novel), Viking (New York, NY), 2011.
  • Hello, Moto, Tor (New York, NY), 2011.
  • Iridessa and the Secret of the Never Mine (children's book), Disney Books (New York, NY), 2012.
  • The Girl with the Magic Hands, Worldreader, 2013.
  • Kabu Kabu, Prime Books (Germantown, MD), 2013.
  • The Book of Phoenix (prequel of Who Fears Death), DAW Books (New York, NY), 2015.
  • Binti (novella), Tor (New York, NY), 2015.
  • (With Mehrdokht Amini) Chicken in the Kitchen, Lantana Publishing (London, England), 2015.
  • Lagoon, Saga Press (New York, NY), 2015.
  • Akata Warrior, Viking (New York, NY), 2017.
  • The Night Masquerade, Tom Doherty Associates (New York, NY), 2018.
  • LaGuardia, art by Tana Ford, color by James Devlin, lettering by Sal Cipriano, Berger Books (Milwaukie, OR), 2019.
  • Binti: The Complete Trilogy, DAW Books (New York, NY), 2019.
  • Shuri: The Search for Black Panther (graphic novel), illustrated by Leonardo Romero, Marvel (New York, NY), 2019.

Author of screenplay Wrapped in Magic, filmed and produced in Nigeria, 2011; author of feature film project The Camel Racer, Triggerfish Story Lab/Walt Disney Company, in production, 2016.

Contributor to anthologies, including Mojo Conjure Stories, edited by Nalo Hopkinson, Warner Aspect (New York, NY), 2003; So Long Been Dreaming: Postcolonial Science Fiction and Fantasy, edited by Nalo Hopkinson and Uppinder Mehan, Arsenal Pulp Press (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada), 2004; Dark Matter: Reading the Bones, edited by Sheree R. Thomas, Warner Books (New York, NY), 2004; Seeds of Change, Prime Books, 2008; Future Tense Fiction: Stories of Tomorrow, Unnamed Press (Los Angeles, CA), 2019. Contributor to works of nonfiction, including Remembering Octavia Butler, Wesleyan University Press, 2008; The Wiscon Chronicles, Aquaduct Press, 2008; and Afro-Future Females, Ohio State University Press, 2008. Author of introduction of Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, by Damian Duffy and John Jennings, Abrams Comicarts (New York, NY), 2018. Maintains a blog. Author of column, "Nnedi on the Net," for Star (newspaper), Chicago, IL; contributor to periodicals and websites, including Black Issues Book Review, Black Arts Quarterly, Essence, Space and Time, Strange Horizons, Alchemy, Song of the Siren, USAToday.com, Pointcast.com, Student Advantage Network Online, Africana.com, Afrique Newsmagazine, Moondance, Umoja, Shag, Thirteenth Floor, and Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism.

 
MEDIA ADAPTATIONS:

Akata Witch and Who Fears Death have been optioned for films; screenplay Wrapped in Magic was filmed and produced in Nigeria, 2011.

 

Sidelights

Professor of English and writer Nnedi Okorafor was born in the United States to Igbo (Nigerian) parents who often returned with her for visits. Her exposure to Nigerian myths and culture, as well as her love of nature and the natural world, has had a considerable influence on her writing. She has been a reviewer for Black Issues Book Review and a technology columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times's sister paper, the Star.

Okorafor has written fiction for children, young adults, and general readers. She has also written screenplays. While her early work, sometimes described as magical realism, has been classified as fantasy, the author has gone on to focus on science fiction and has received accolades for bringing cultural diversity to this genre. As she explained in a Root interview with Hope Wabuke: "In postapocalyptic and apocalyptic narratives when they show the whole world freaking out about something that is happening to the Earth, they never show Africa. ... I wasn't seeing it, so I started writing it."

Zahrah the Windseeker is Okorafor's debut novel. Protagonist Zahrah Tsami is a thirteen-year-old "dadagirl," so named because she was born with "dadalocks," special dreadlocked hair naturally entwined and growing with living plant vines. People in the Ooni kingdom in the world called Ginen, where Zahrah lives, combine technology with organic matter--computers are grown from CPU seeds, flower bulbs serve as sources of illumination, and a benign force of nature provides plenty for all. Their society has evolved in the aftermath of war and bioterrorism, and human mutants with special powers are now being born. Though she is told that the dadalocks signify great strength and wisdom, to Zahrah they are a stigma since they cause her to be scorned by her peers. As she grows older, Zahrah discovers that her unusual hair isn't the only gift that has been bestowed upon her. She is also a windseeker, an adept capable of calling and controlling the wind, upon which she can also fly. Afraid that her wind and flight abilities will only ostracize her further, Zahrah conceals her talents and does not practice. Finally convinced by her friend Dari to explore her powers, the two enter the Forbidden Greeny Jungle, a taboo area where they will not be seen but where they risk running into danger. When Dari is bitten by a poisonous snake, only Zahrah can save him--if she uses her powers to speed the acquisition of an elgort egg, the only known antidote. Heedless of additional danger to herself, Zahrah sets off on a series of greater adventures, determined to save her friend and, in the process, learn about herself.

Kliatt reviewer KaaVonia Hinton observed: "Teachers, scholars, and students who are interested in fantasy influenced by African culture and the theme of flight that permeates much African American literature by black women will appreciate [Zahrah the Windseeker]." The author "has a fluid writing style that is filled with rich descriptions and vivid details," commented Stacey Seay for the Black Book Reviews website. "Okorafor does an amazing job of thrilling, exciting and delivering a fantasy novel, and her pacing is superb," commented Arphelia K. Cabell in Black Issues Book Review. The book is "a welcome addition to a genre sorely in need of more heroes and heroines of color," observed Booklist contributor Jennifer Mattson.

The Shadow Speaker, set in the year 2070, features fourteen-year-old Ejii Ugabe, who lives in Niger, and whose gift is that she can speak to shadows. At the age of nine, she witnessed, not unhappily, the beheading of her tyrant father by the Red Queen, Jaa, a warrior Ejii follows across the Sahara. The young girl carries a small amount of food and rides a talking camel named Onion. Her best friend and companion is Dikeogu, a runaway slave boy who can pull lightning and rain from the heavens.

New York Times Book Review contributor Donna Freitas wrote: "The story and its characters lack emotional pull; they feel flat on the page. ... Still, there are creative touches here that fans of fantasy will not want to miss, like the book's unforgettable scenery." Freitas added that this book, like the author's first, "leaves little doubt that Okorafor's imagination is stunning and that she can lay the groundwork for a successful fantasy."

The characters of this novel, especially the women, are complex, and in a genre that is primarily Eurocentric, the inclusion of Islamic traditions and the African setting within a science fiction tale are uncommon. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted these points, as well as "the rich and complex world-building," commenting that they are "very welcome."

Okorafor's first dystopian fantasy for adults, Who Fears Death, is set in a postapocalyptic Africa where technology is failing, the earth has turned to desert, and superstition and violence prevail. Amidst endless war, slavery, and political divisiveness, people await the coming of a prophesied magician who will right these injustices and create a future of peace and harmony. The book's protagonist, a girl named Onyesonwu, was conceived by rape. Born with light, freckled skin and fair hair, she is rejected as ugly and possibly even evil. But Onyesonwu refuses to accept the role of outcast. She knows she possesses a special magic, and she determines to use these powers to avenge her mother's rape and bring justice to her people.

The novel earned rave reviews. Jennifer Beach, writing in Library Journal, hailed it as an "astonishing" example of "dystopian fantasy at its very best." Noting the book's "chillingly realistic" exploration of evils such as racial injustice, gender inequality, and female genital cutting, a writer for Publishers Weekly deemed Who Fears Death a "fantastical, magical blend of grand storytelling."

Who Fears Death's prequel, The Book of Phoenix, provides the first novel's backstory. Phoenix, a biological weapon designed to look and act like a forty-year-old woman, escapes from the facility where she was manufactured in hopes of evading the mysterious organization that created her, which plans to make her an agent of destruction. A Publishers Weekly reviewer acknowledged that the story is "brimming with anger," but felt that it "lacks much of the nuance and intrigue" for which the author's work has been praised.

Sunny Nwazue, an American-born girl of Nigerian heritage who is the protagonist of a Okorafor's young adult novel Akata Witch, is an albino. When she moves with her family back to Nigeria, she is shunned as an akata witch. Almost thirteen, Sunny just wants to fit in at her new school, but with the help of two classmates, she discovers that she does in fact have supernatural abilities. Hiding this fact from her family and friends, Sunny secretly prepares to be initiated as a free agent of the magic Leopard People. Before long, she and her fellow akatas put their powers to use in a confrontation against Otokoto the Black Hat, an evil being who kidnaps children and kills them.

Sunny, said Voice of Youth Advocates contributor Judith A. Hayne, is "one of the most charming, feisty, and memorable heroines of the genre." Writing in Booklist, Gillian Engberg expressed similar enthusiasm for the book's engaging protagonist. Engberg also admired Akata Witch for its "sly humor, archetypal themes, and inventive reworking of coming-of-age journeys." The novel also received high praise in Kirkus Reviews, where a contributor hailed the book as "ebulliently original."

The protagonist of Okorafor's novella Binti is a young woman who is the first member of the Himba people to be admitted to study at Oomza University, the most prestigious in the galaxy. To accept this rare opportunity, Binti must leave her family behind and live among people whose beliefs and customs are alien to hers. These people have wronged the Meduse, a terrifying alien race, and Binti's journey places her in grave danger. To survive, she must use both her native wisdom and the teachings she hopes to discover at the university.

Binti was widely praised. Reviewers admired its world-building, its exciting story, and its compellingly drawn protagonist. "A perfect dove-tailing of tribal and futuristic, of sentient space ships and ancient cultural traditions, Binti was a beautiful story to read," declared a contributor to the Little Red Reviewer website. For Binti, Okorafor received the 2016 Nebula Award.

In Lagoon, extraterrestrials arrive in Lagos, Nigeria. They have parked their ship in the ocean depths near the city's easygoing neighborhood of Bar Beach, swooping out to capture the area's people and bring them to their underwater base. The aliens have done amazing things. The once-filthy water is now clean, and marine animals have become spectacularly large, healthy, and intelligent. Three human characters, accompanied by an alien ambassador, return to the surface to explain what has occurred and to encourage the city to accept the aliens and their plans.

The novel "absolutely teems with characters, perspectives, and Englishes," said National Public Radio reviewer Amal El-Mohtar. "Everything about it is diverse and varied: In structure it feels part oral tradition, part theater, part screenplay, part memoir; in content it bubbles over with characters from different species, ethnicities, classes, genders, sexualities, religions." Noting that this exuberance and variety admirably conveys the vibrancy of Lagos itself, the reviewer considered it slightly problematic in terms of the book's narrative, which El-Mohtar described found "as choppy a read as the ocean on a stormy day." A huge cast of human and animal characters, from bishops to drug dealers, prostitutes, political leaders, and spiders, interact with each other and with numerous shape-shifting aliens in a plot that shifts perspective frequently and focuses on the ways in which the well-meaning aliens might make improvements to life on Earth. The nonlinear narrative, with its numerous shifts and strands, develops some characters and sketches others less fully, and, for El-Mohtar, is "sometimes necessarily jarring" to read. Even so, the reviewer found Lagoon an "enthralling" work so crammed with inventive prose, complex female characters, and fascinating themes that the book is more a fully immersive experience than a mere novel.

Michael Ann Dobbs, writing in io9, expressed similar views, hailing the novel as a "swirling writhing cross section of life in Lagos" and observing that the book's chaotic structure "allows Okorafor to bring to life a fascinating view of Lagos in all its contradictions." The narrative eventually "breaks down completely," said Dobbs, "as if Okorafor is loudly proclaiming that no novel can possibly hold the complete experience of the changes being wrought" by the arrival of the aliens.

In the novel's afterword, Okorafor states that her initial inspiration for writing the book was to provide a corrective to the negative stereotyping of Africans presented in the 2009 film District 9, which addresses the themes of xenophobia and racism. In Dobbs's view, the book has an "occasional filmic feel," and its characters are not as consistently well-developed as in the author's previous work, where Okorafor has shone as "a master of characterization." Even so, Dobbs deemed Lagoon a "fascinating entry into the canon."

Asked about the absence of black people in science fiction and fantasy books, Okorafor told Root interviewer Hope Wabuke: "The writers ... are there. But the gatekeepers have kept people out. And it's an audience problem: Audiences seem to be used to a certain type of narrative, a certain kind of main character--a certain type of everything. And those certain types don't include people of color. So when people of color are written, there is usually some kind of filter they are seen through--whether written by a white author or watered down until it's comfortable."

Okorafor once told CA: "My father was a sort of storyteller. He was always telling these wild tales about when he was young and in Nigeria. And my father had a love of the nature's unknown that he definitely passed down to me; this plays a major role in what drives me to write about something. My father's brother, my uncle, Moses, was also a sort of storyteller. The first Stephen King book I ever became familiar with was Cujo, but not by reading it. When my uncle came from Nigeria to visit, he'd read Cujo. One evening, he sat my siblings and I down and told us the entire story. I read the book years later; my uncle's telling was much better.

"My mother used to talk about wanting to write books, and that always stuck in my head, too. She's a good writer and is attracted to literature. Since she still hasn't written a book, I think that in a way, I'm finishing her task. My trips to Nigeria are one of the greatest influences on my work. My parents have been taking my siblings and me there to visit family since we were very young. Zahrah the Windseeker is highly inflected by these trips in several ways. The story basically takes place in a world built from Nigeria.

"I get an idea or the idea gets me and I start writing. And I won't stop until the draft is done. Period. This can often be a [breathtaking] experience because my schedule isn't often ready for a novel to hit me. However, I find ways to get the story out (which usually involves no TV for months, friends not seeing or hearing from me for a while, and getting less sleep). I like to write in the early morning until my daughter wakes up or I have to go to work. I rarely write at night; I used to, but once I had my daughter, this wasn't an option.

"A friend of mine once told me that the best way to learn a language is to start by learning how to read and write it. There is something that the written word does to ideas that makes people better able to grasp them. I think the same goes with stories. And there are characters and places and ideas that I wish to pass on.

"My goal is also to achieve the effect that attracted me to books in the first place. I am as much a reader as I am a writer and I love when a book is able to make the world around me fall away completely and put me into its amazing world, in the heads of its amazing characters. We are given only one life, but books especially, good ones, allow us stretch that rule. Through books, you can live hundreds and hundreds of other lives. This is what I seek. To create that effect of sucking a reader in so thoroughly into what I've written that he or she is there; to help multiply the lives one lives."

FURTHER READINGS:

FURTHER READINGS ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

PERIODICALS

  • Black Issues Book Review, January-February, 2006, Arphelia K. Cabell, review of Zahrah the Windseeker, p. 61.
  • Booklist, November 15, 2005, Jennifer Mattson, review of Zahrah the Windseeker, p. 60; March 1, 2008, Jennifer Mattson, review of The Shadow Speaker, p. 68; May 15, 2011, Gillian Engberg, review of Akata Witch, p. 54; May 15, 2011, Gillian Engberg, "The Changing Faces of Fantasy: Nnedi Okorafor's Akata Witch," p. 54.
  • Bookseller, January 17, 2014, review of Lagoon.
  • Cicada, March-April, 2016, interview with Okorafor.
  • Horn Book, May-June, 2011, Anita L. Burkam, review of Akata Witch, p. 99.
  • Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2005, review of Zahrah the Windseeker, p. 980; September 15, 2007, review of The Shadow Speaker; March 15, 2011, review of Akata Witch.
  • Kliatt, September, 2005, KaaVonia Hinton, review of Zahrah the Windseeker, p. 11.
  • Library Journal, June 15, 2010, Jennifer Beach, review of Who Fears Death, p. 68.
  • New York Times Book Review, July 13, 2008, Donna Freitas, review of The Shadow Speaker.
  • Publishers Weekly, April 5, 2010, review of Who Fears Death, p. 51; February 14, 2011, review of Akata Witch, p. 59; April 20, 2015, review of The Book of Phoenix, p. 60.
  • Reading Today, August-September, 2011, Jennifer Sanders, review of Akata Witch, p. 37.
  • Research in African Literatures, winter, 2015, Joshua Yu Burnett, "The Great Change and the Great Book: Nnedi Okorafor's Postcolonial, Post-Apocalyptic Africa and the Promise of Black Speculative Fiction," p. 133.
  • School Librarian, spring, 2016, Morag Styles, review of Chicken in the Kitchen p. 32.
  • School Library Journal, December, 2005, Karyn N. Silverman, review of Zahrah the Windseeker, p. 151; February, 2008, Marie C. Hansen, review of The Shadow Speaker, p. 124; June, 2011, Sharon Rawlins, review of Akata Witch, p. 128.
  • Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 2011, Judith A. Hayn, review of Akata Witch, p. 189.

ONLINE

  • AfricanLoft, http://www.africanloft.com/ (March 17, 2008), Veronica Henry, "A Conversation with D. Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu--Author of The Shadow Speaker," interview.
  • African Writer.com, http://www.africanwriter.com/ (December 7, 2008), profile.
  • Black Book Reviews, http://www.therawreviewers.com/ (January 31, 2006), Stacey Seay, review of Zahrah the Windseeker.
  • Bookslut, http://www.bookslut.com/ (June 5, 2016), Kylee Stoor, review of Who Fears Death.
  • Christian Science Monitor, http://www.csmonitor.com/ (June 5, 2016), Scott Allan Stevens, review of Who Fears Death.
  • Curled Up with a Good Kid's Book, http://www.curledupkids.com/ (December 7, 2008), Lillian Brummet, review of The Shadow Speaker.
  • Fantastic Fiction, http://www.fantasticfiction.com/ (June 5, 2016), Okorafor profile.
  • Guardian Online, http://www.theguardian.com/ (June 5, 2016), Kola Tubosun, "Nigeria: When Aliens Took Lagos."
  • io9, http://io9.gizmodo.com/ (June 5, 2016), Michael Ann Dobbs, review of Lagoon.
  • Little Red Reviewer, http://littleredreviewer.wordpress.com/ (October 12, 2015), review of Binti.
  • National Public Radio website, http://www.npr.org/ (June 5, 2016), Amal El-Mohtar, review of Lagoon.
  • Nnedi Okorafor Home Page, http://www.nnedi.com (June 5, 2016).
  • Oklahoman, http://newsok.com/ (June 5, 2016), Ken Raymond, review of Lagoon.
  • PRWeb Newswire, http://www.prweb.com/ (June 5, 2016), "Fantasy Author, Nnedi Okorafor, Writers of the Future Contest Judge, Signs on to 'Fantasy for Good: A Charitable Anthology.'"
  • Root, http://www.theroot.com/ (June 5, 2016), Hope Wabuke, "Nnedi Okorafor Is Putting Africans at the Center of Science Fiction and Fantasy."
  • Strange Horizons, http://www.strangehorizons.com/ (May 3, 2006), Genevieve Williams, review of Zahrah the Windseeker; (June 5, 2016), T.S. Miller, review of Lagoon.
  • University of Buffalo Reporter, http://www.buffalo.edu/ubreporter/ (June 5, 2016), Elizabeth Hand, "The Speculative Fiction of UB Faculty Member Nnedi Okorafor."
  • University of Buffalo website, http://www.buffalo.edu/ (June 5, 2016), Okorafor faculty profile.*

 
Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
"Nnedi Okorafor." Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2018. Literature Resource Center, https%3A%2F%2Flink.gale.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FH1000166726%2FLitRC%3Fu%3Dcham90748%26sid%3DLitRC%26xid%3D17dfbdcc. Accessed 13 Nov. 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1000166726