Akwaeke Emezi

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Akwaeke Emezi
Akwaeke Emezi
Akwaeke Emezi
Born (1987-06-06) June 6, 1987 (age 35)
Umuahia, Abia, Nigeria[1]
OccupationWriter, video artist
EducationNew York University (MPA)
Syracuse University (MFA)
GenreFantasy, romance
Years active2017–present
Notable worksFreshwater
The Death of Vivek Oji
Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir

Akwaeke Emezi is a Nigerian fiction writer and video artist, best known for their novels Freshwater, Pet, and their New York Times bestselling novel The Death of Vivek Oji.[2] Emezi is a generalist who writes speculative fiction, romance, memoir and poetry for both young adults and adults with mostly LGBT themes. Their work has earned them several awards and nominations including the Otherwise Award and Commonwealth Short Story Prize. In 2021, Time featured them as a Next Generation Leader.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Akwaeke Emezi was born in Umuahia in 1987 to an Igbo Nigerian father, and a mother who was the daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants living in Malaysia.[4] Emezi grew up in Aba.[5] Emezi started reading fantasy books and with their sister Yagazie[6] used storytelling to escape the riots, dictatorship, and dangerous reality of their childhoods.[7] Emezi was a "voracious" reader during childhood and they began writing short stories when they were five years old.[8][9]

Emezi relocated to Appalachia,[3] United States when they were 16 years old to attend college.[4] After college, they enrolled in a veterinary school and dropped out before receiving their MPA in international public policy and nonprofit management from New York University.[10] Emezi briefly started a short lived anonymous sex blog and a natural-hair blog which gave them little recognition.[4] In 2014, they entered the MFA creative fiction writing program at Syracuse where they started the draft of their debut novel Freshwater after which they attended a Nigerian writing workshop in Lagos.[4]


Emezi's debut novel Freshwater tells the semi-autobiographical story of the protagonist, Ada, who is an ogbanje (an Igbo evil spirit). Emezi explores their Igbo heritage's spirituality and gender alongside those of Western construction and invites their audience to think critically about this spirit/body binary.[2][11]

Freshwater received significant critical acclaim[12][13][14] and was longlisted for numerous prestigious awards.[15][16][17][18] Emezi was also recognized as a 2018 National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" honoree.[19]

In 2019, Freshwater was nominated for the Women's Prize for Fiction—the first time a non-binary transgender author has been nominated for the prize. Women's prize judge Professor Kate Williams said that the panel did not know Emezi was non-binary when the book was chosen, but she said Emezi was happy to be nominated.[20] Non-binary commentator Vic Parsons wrote that the nomination raised uncomfortable questions, asking: "would a non-binary author who was assigned male at birth have been longlisted? I highly doubt it."[21] After the nomination, it was announced that the Women's Prize Trust was working on new guidelines for transgender, non-binary, and genderfluid authors.[22] The Women's Prize later asked for Emezi's "sex as defined by law" when submitting The Death of Vivek Oji for inclusion, and Emezi chose to withdraw, calling the requirement transphobic and specifically exclusionary to trans women.[23]

Emezi's second novel and first young adult novel Pet, released on 10 September 2019, is about a transgender teenager named Jam living in a world where adults refuse to acknowledge the existence of monsters.[24] A prequel Bitter, was released in February 2022.[25][26]

Emezi signed a two-book deal with Riverhead Books. The first, The Death of Vivek Oji, came out on 4 August 2020 and was a New York Times best seller.[27] The second is a memoir entitled Dear Senthuran: A Black Spirit Memoir.[28]

Emezi's debut poetry collection Content Warning: Everything was published in April 2022.[29]

In April 2021, Deadline Hollywood announced that Amazon Studios won the right to adapt their debut romance novel You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty into a feature film.[30][31] It was purchased in a high six figure deal which Deadline called the biggest book deal of the year so far. Michael B. Jordan’s Outlier Society will develop it alongside Elizabeth Raposo. Emezi will serve as the executive producer.[30]

Other works[edit]

Emezi will write and executive produce the TV series adaptation of their novel Freshwater for FX alongside Tamara P. Carter. It will be produced by FX Productions with Kevin Wandell and Lindsey Donahue.[32][33]

Personal life[edit]

Emezi identifies as non-binary transgender. They use the pronouns they/them/theirs.[34][35] They experience multiplicity and consider themself an ogbanje.[35][36] They experienced their first personality split when they were 16, a week after moving to the United States.[4] They have written about their experience of undergoing gender confirmation surgery.[37]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Awards won and nominated
Dates Award Category Notes Ref.
2017 Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice Global Arts Fund Grant Won [38][39]
Commonwealth Short Story Prize Africa Won [40][1]
2019 Nommo Award Freshwater Won [41][42]
Otherwise Award Freshwater Won [43]
2020 We Need Diverse Books Walter Honor Books, Teen Category Won [44]
2021 Nommo Award The Death of Vivek Oji Won
2018 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize First Novel prize Nominated [45]
2019 Aspen Words Literary Prize Nominated [46][47]
PEN/Hemingway Award Women Prize for Fiction Nominated [48][49]
Carnegie Medal of Excellence Carnegie Medals- Award grants Nominated [50]
The Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize Nominated [15]
2019 Young Lions Fiction Award finalist Nominated [51]
National Book Award for Young People's Literature finalist Nominated [52]
Women's Prize for Fiction Nominated [20]
2021 Dylan Thomas Prize Nominated [53]
Walter Dean Myers Award Honor book Nominated [54][55]



  • — (2018). Freshwater: A Novel. New York: Grove Press. ISBN 978-0-8021-2735-8.[56]
  • — (2020). The Death of Vivek Oji: A Novel. New York: Riverhead Books. ISBN 978-0-525-54160-8.[57]
  • — (2022). You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty: A Novel. New York: Atria Books. ISBN 978-1-982188-70-2.[58]

Young adult novels[edit]




  1. ^ a b "Literary Birthday – 6 June – Akwaeke Emezi". Writers Write. 5 June 2019. Retrieved 31 May 2020.
  2. ^ a b Mzezewa, Tariro (26 February 2018). "In This Debut Novel, a College Student Hears Voices". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  3. ^ a b Tre’vell Anderson. "Author Akwaeke Emezi Is Writing New Possibilities Into Being". Time. Retrieved 24 May 2022.
  4. ^ a b c d e Binyam, Maya (19 May 2022). "'The Goal Is to Get As Bright As Possible'". Vulture. Retrieved 24 May 2022.
  5. ^ "Books We Love: Inside The Bubble With Akwaeke Emezi | Death, Sex & Money". WNYC Studios. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
  6. ^ Leibovitz, Annie (11 January 2018). "5 Families Who Are Changing The World as We Know It". Vogue. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  7. ^ "39: Akwaeke Emeziwriter and video artist". Mythos. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  8. ^ "A Spirit Born into a Human Body: Talking with Akwaeke Emezi". The Rumpus.net. 21 February 2018. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  9. ^ "Akwaeke Emezi: 'I'd read everything – even the cereal box'". the Guardian. 20 October 2018. Retrieved 26 September 2021.
  10. ^ Freshwater | Grove Atlantic.
  11. ^ "In 'Freshwater,' A College Student Learns To Live With Separate Selves". NPR.org. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  12. ^ Waldman, Katy (26 February 2018). "A Startling Début Novel Explores the Freedom of Being Multiple". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  13. ^ Adébáyò, Ayòbámi (15 November 2018). "Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi review – a remarkable debut". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  14. ^ Straight, Susan (16 February 2018). "A dazzling, devastating novel: 'Freshwater' by Akwaeke Emezi". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  15. ^ a b "The Brooklyn Public Library Literary Prize". www.bklynlibrary.org. 20 March 2017. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  16. ^ "100 Notable Books of 2018". The New York Times. 19 November 2018. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  17. ^ Waldman, Katy (4 December 2018). "The Best Books of 2018". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  18. ^ "NPR's Book Concierge Our Guide To 2018's Great Reads". apps.npr.org. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  19. ^ Schaub, Michael (24 September 2018). "National Book Foundation unveils this year's '5 Under 35' picks". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  20. ^ a b Cain, Sian (4 March 2019). "Non-binary trans author nominated for Women's prize for fiction". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 27 March 2019.
  21. ^ "Opinion: Be careful before celebrating the recognition of Akwaeke Emezi". The Independent. 6 March 2019. Archived from the original on 24 March 2019. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  22. ^ Wood, Heloise. "Women's Prize to formulate new policy around gender criteria". TheBookSeller.com. Retrieved 21 March 2020.
  23. ^ Flood, Alison (5 October 2020). "Akwaeke Emezi shuns Women's prize over request for details of sex as defined 'by law'". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 5 October 2020. Retrieved 26 August 2021.
  24. ^ "Pet by Akwaeke Emezi: 9780525647072 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books". PenguinRandomhouse.com. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  25. ^ IBEH, CHUKWUEBUKA (16 August 2021). "Akwaeke Emezi Announces New YA Fantasy Novel – Biter". Brittle paper. Retrieved 29 May 2022.
  26. ^ Berglind, Natalie (2022). "Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi (review)". Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books. 75 (6): 187. doi:10.1353/bcc.2022.0061. ISSN 1558-6766.
  27. ^ "The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi: 9780525541608 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books". PenguinRandomhouse.com. Retrieved 20 September 2020.
  28. ^ Anderson, Tre'vell (27 May 2021). "Akwaeke Emezi Is Writing New Possibilities Into Being". Time. Retrieved 9 June 2021.
  29. ^ Vinson, Arriel (11 April 2022). "Akwaeke Emezi Explores New Terrain in 'Content Warning: Everything'". Shondaland. Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  30. ^ a b Fleming, Mike Jr. (29 April 2021). "Amazon, Michael B. Jordan's Outlier Society Land Akwaeke Emezi Novel 'You Made A Fool Of Death With Your Beauty'". Deadline. Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  31. ^ "Akwaeke Emezi's Novel 'You Made A Fool Of Death With Your Beauty' To Be Adapted Into A Film By Amazon Studios And Michael B. Jordan". JARO Magazine. 11 May 2021. Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  32. ^ Otterson, Joe (22 May 2019). "FX to Develop Series Adaptation of Akwaeke Emezi's 'Freshwater' With Tamara P. Carter (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  33. ^ Simon, Jordan. "'Freshwater': FX Developing Series Adaptation Based On Akwaeke Emezi's Acclaimed Debut Novel". Shadow and Act. Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  34. ^ Bausells, Marta (21 February 2018). "The Nonbinary Author Centering African Narratives Erased by Colonialism". Vice.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  35. ^ a b Emezi, Akwaeke (19 January 2018). "Transition". The Cut. Retrieved 10 March 2020.
  36. ^ Whitehouse, Matthew (24 December 2018). "akwaeke emezi: the 'freshwater' author standing on the edge and claiming it as central". i-D. Retrieved 19 August 2021.
  37. ^ Emezi, Akwaeke (19 January 2018). "Transition". The Cut. Retrieved 12 April 2022.
  38. ^ "Akwaeke Emezi Bio: Akwaeke Emezi is an Igbo/Tamil... – globalartsfund". Global Arts Fund 2017. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  39. ^ "Global Arts Fund Archives – Page 2 of 4". Astraea Lesbian Foundation For Justice. Retrieved 31 May 2020.
  40. ^ "Who Is Like God". Granta. 13 June 2017. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  41. ^ "Announcing the 2019 Nommo Award Winners". 25 October 2019.
  42. ^ "Nommo 2019: Novel Nominations – African Speculative Fiction Society". www.africansfs.com. Archived from the original on 9 June 2020. Retrieved 31 May 2020.
  43. ^ Lothian, Alexis (11 April 2020). "Akwaeke Emezi wins 2019 Otherwise Award! Honor List Announced « Otherwise Award". Otherwise Award. Retrieved 31 May 2020.
  44. ^ "2020 Walter Awards". We Need Diverse Books. 21 January 2020. Archived from the original on 7 April 2020. Retrieved 31 May 2020.
  45. ^ "The Center for Fiction". www.centerforfiction.org. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  46. ^ "AKWAEKE EMEZI". Aspen Words. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  47. ^ "7 Tips on Writing Fiction from Aspen Words Literary Prize Nominees". The Aspen Institute. 10 January 2019. Retrieved 31 May 2020.
  48. ^ "2019 PEN/Hemingway Award Finalists Announced | The Hemingway Society". www.hemingwaysociety.org. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  49. ^ "Akwaeke Emezi". Women's Prize for Fiction. Retrieved 31 May 2020.
  50. ^ "Andrew Carnegie Medals Longlist | Awards & Grants". www.ala.org. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  51. ^ "Young Lions Fiction Award Finalists". locusmag.com. 21 May 2019. Retrieved 1 June 2019.
  52. ^ "The 2019 National Book Awards Finalists Announced". National Book Foundation. 7 October 2019. Retrieved 9 October 2019.
  53. ^ "Shortlist for Dylan Thomas Prize Is Revealed". Kirkus Reviews. Retrieved 29 March 2021.
  54. ^ Marketing, Chris (9 February 2020). "2020 Walter Dean Myers Awards for Outstanding Literature". Eisenhower Public Library. Retrieved 20 January 2022.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  55. ^ SLJ Staff (22 January 2022). "We Need Diverse Books Names 2020 Walter Dean Myers Award Winners". School Library Journal. Archived from the original on 14 March 2020. Retrieved 20 January 2022.
  56. ^ Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi. Grove Atlantic. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  57. ^ "The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi: 9780525541608". Penguin Random House. Archived from the original on 2 January 2020. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  58. ^ Emezi, Akwaeke (24 May 2022). You Made a Fool of Death with Your Beauty. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 9781982188702. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  59. ^ "Pet by Akwaeke Emezi: 9780525647072". Penguin Random House. Archived from the original on 14 October 2019. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  60. ^ "Bitter by Akwaeke Emezi: 9780593309032". Penguin Random House. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  61. ^ "Dear Senthuran by Akwaeke Emezi: 9780593329191". Penguin Random House. Retrieved 16 December 2021.
  62. ^ "Content Warning: Everything by Akwaeke Emezi". Copper Canyon Press. Retrieved 16 December 2021.

External links[edit]