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Society

Skinned: Short story that grabbed Caine Prize

Nneka Arimah
Lesley Nneka Arimah. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Lesley Nneka Arimah of Nigeria is the winner of the 20th edition of the Caine Prize for African Writing.

Arimah’s short story Skinned, published in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, was picked from a shortlist of five that included Sew My Mouth by Cherrie Kandie from Kenya, The Wall by Meron Hadero (Ethiopia), It Takes A Village Some Say by Ngwah-Mbo Nana Nkweti (Cameroon) and All Our Lives by Tochukwu Emmanuel Okafor (Nigeria).

Kenya had another representation at the award ceremony at Beveridge Hall, University of London.

Peter Kimani was the chair of the judges. He said of his role: “(It was) like placing a palm on the continent's pulse. Caine Prize winners have been revolutionary and evolutionary, while pushing the African story to the mainstream of world literature.”

The president of the Prize Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne said the Prize “is a beacon of freedom of speech.”

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Skinned is set in a misogynistic society in which girls are ceremonially ‘uncovered’ and must marry in order to regain the right to be clothed. Ejem, a young woman uncovered at the age of 15 has to live with the tag of an ‘unclaimed’ woman and discrimination in adulthood. The story addresses independence, womanhood, and friendships.

Kimani said “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.”

Other issues explored in the stories include gender and generation; home and exile; sexuality and religion; love and hate; happiness and heartbreak.

The prize is awarded for a short story by an African writer published in English. The winner will take home £10,000 (Sh1.2 million). Other finalists receive £500 (Sh65,000).

It is named in memory of Sir Michael Caine, who was chairman of the Africa 95 arts festival and chair of the Booker Prize management committee for close to 25 years.

Kenyans have had a good run in the competition since Binyavanga Wainaina won it in 2002. Yvonne Owuor won in 2003, Okwiri Oduor (2014), and Makena Onjerika (2018).

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