Forna in Frankfurt am Main, 2008
1964 (age 53–54)|
Bellshill, Lanarkshire, Scotland
|Occupation||Author, academic, commentator|
|Alma mater||University College London|
|Notable awards||Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best Book Award 2011, 2014 Windham–Campbell Literature Prize (Fiction)|
Aminatta Forna, OBE (born 1964) is a Scottish and Sierra Leonean writer. She is the author of a memoir, The Devil That Danced on the Water, and four novels: Ancestor Stones (2006), The Memory of Love (2010), The Hired Man (2013) and Happiness (2018). Her novel The Memory of Love was awarded the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for "Best Book" in 2011, and was also shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Forna is Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and was, until recently, Sterling Brown Distinguished Visiting Professor at Williams College in Massachusetts. She is currently Lannan Visiting Chair of Poetics at Georgetown University.
The finalists for the 2016 Neustadt International Prize for Literature were announced in May 2015. The list included Forna and writers, poets and playwrights from around the world. The majority of the finalists were women writers. In 2016, Forna was announced as one of the 2017 panel of judges for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction.
Forna was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to literature. Forna is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, sits on the advisory committee for the Royal Literary Fund and the Caine Prize for African Writing, has been a judge on several high-profile prize panels, including the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction and continues to champion the work of up-and-coming diverse authors.
Forna was born in Bellshill, Scotland, in 1964 to a Sierra Leonean father, Mohamed Forna, and a Scottish mother, Maureen Christison. When Forna was six months old the family travelled to Sierra Leone, where Mohamed Forna worked as a physician. He later became involved in politics and entered government, only to resign citing a growth in political violence and corruption. Between 1970 and 1973 he was imprisoned and declared an Amnesty Prisoner of Conscience. Mohamed Forna was hanged on charges of treason in 1975. The events of Forna's childhood and her investigation into the conspiracy surrounding her father's death are the subject of the memoir The Devil That Danced on the Water.
Forna studied law at University College London and was a Harkness Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2013 she assumed a post as Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University.
Between 1989 and 1999 Forna worked for the BBC, both in radio and television, as a reporter and documentary maker in the spheres of arts and politics. She is also known for her Africa documentaries: Through African Eyes (1995), Africa Unmasked (2002) and The Lost Libraries of Timbuktu (2009). Forna is also a board member of the Royal National Theatre and a judge for The Man Booker International Prize 2013.
Aminatta Forna is married to the furniture designer Simon Westcott and lives in south-east London.
Forna's work, both fiction and non-fiction, is typically concerned with the prelude and aftermath to war, memory, the conflict between private narratives and official histories, and examines how the gradual accretion of small, seemingly insignificant acts of betrayal find expression in full-scale horror. In her fiction she employs multiple voices and shifting timelines.
The Devil that Danced on the Water
The Devil that Danced on the Water, Forna's first book, received wide critical acclaim across the UK and the US. It was broadcast on BBC Radio and went on to become runner-up for the UK's Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction.
Ancestor Stones, Forna's second book and first novel, won the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for debut fiction in the US and the Liberaturpreis in Germany and was nominated for the International Dublin Literary Award. The Washington Post named Ancestor Stones one of the most important books of 2006. In 2007, Forna was named by Vanity Fair magazine as one of Africa's best new writers.
The Memory of Love
The Memory of Love, winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best Book Award 2011, was described by the judges as "a bold, deeply moving and accomplished novel" and Forna as "among the most talented writers in literature today"; The Memory of Love was also shortlisted for the International Dublin Literary Award 2012, the Orange Prize for Fiction 2011 and the Warwick Prize for Writing.
Aminatta Forna was one of 10 writers contributing to 10x10 Girl Rising. The film tells the stories of 10 girls in 10 developing countries. The girls' stories are written by 10 acclaimed writers and narrated by 10 world-class actresses, including Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Freida Pinto and Cate Blanchett. The film premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January 2013.
The Hired Man
Critics praised Forna's forensic research and ability to evoke atmosphere, place, pacing, precision, powerful emotions, characterisations and atmposphere. In the United States The Boston Globe stated that "not since "Remains of the Day" has an author so skilfully revealed the way history's layers are often invisible to all but its participants, who do what they must to survive".
Happiness, Aminatta Forna's fourth novel, published in the USA in March, and in the UK in April 2018, explores themes of love, trauma, migration and belonging, the conflict between nature and civilisation, and how multi-layered experiences can grow resilience.
The Star Tribune described Happiness as "a tightly focused two-hander". The Financial Times review of Happiness said: "Forna is a risk-taker, a writer who doesn’t hold back from tackling big themes..."  The Washington Post described Forna as a "subtle and knowing" writer able to fold "weighty matter into her buoyant creation with a sublimely delicate touch", while The Seattle Times wrote: "Forna’s prose is precise ... stunning in its clarity". Kirkus Reviews, featuring the author on its cover, wrote: "Low-key yet piercingly empathetic, Forna's latest explores instinct, resilience, and the complexity of human coexistence, reaffirming her reputation for exceptional ability and perspective." The Sunday Times review notes "Forna circles ... Her path is never straight, she doubles back, crisscrosses ... she approaches the thought from elliptical angles, bringing moments of startling clarity. This walk is never dull." The Observer's Alex Preston wrote of Happiness "It is as if the author has privileged access into multiple spheres of existence, learning the secret languages of each". Of Happiness, The Guardian's Diana Evans wrote that it "builds in resonance beyond the final page". In The Spectator Kate Webb wrote of Happiness "Forna’s piercingly intelligent and interrogative novel ... registers tectonic shifts taking place in the world and provokes us to think anew about war, and what we take for peace and happiness."
- The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter's Quest. Grove Press. 18 December 2003. ISBN 978-0-8021-4048-7.
- Ancestor Stones. Atlantic Monthly Press. 14 August 2006. ISBN 978-0-87113-944-3.
- The Memory of Love. Bloomsbury. April 2010. ISBN 978-1-4088-0813-9.
- The Hired Man. Bloomsbury. March 2013. ISBN 978-1-4088-1877-0.
- Happiness, Atlantic Monthly, March 2018. ISBN 978-0-8021-2755-6
Awards and honours
- 2003 Samuel Johnson Prize (shortlist), The Devil that Danced on the Water
- 2007 Hurston-Wright Legacy Award (winner), Ancestor Stones
- 2007 International Dublin Literary Award (nomination), Ancestor Stones
- 2008 Liberaturpreis (winner), Ancestor Stones
- 2010 Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize, Ancestor Stones
- 2010 BBC National Short Story Award (nomination), "Haywards Heath"
- 2010 Warwick Prize for Writing (shortlist), The Memory of Love
- 2011 Commonwealth Writers' Prize (winner), The Memory of Love
- 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction (shortlist), The Memory of Love
- 2012 International Dublin Literary Award (shortlist), The Memory of Love
- 2014 Windham–Campbell Literature Prize (Fiction), valued at $150,000 one of the largest prizes in the world of its kind.
- 2016 Neustadt International Prize for Literature (finalist)
- 2017 New Year Honours OBE for services to Literature
- Brittain, Victoria (18 May 2002). "The Truth About Daddy". The Guardian. London.
- "Aminatta Forna: 'My country had a war. It would be extraordinary not to want to write about that'", The Independent, 4 June 2011.
- Renee Montagne,"'Ancestor Stones:' Life and War in Sierra Leone", NPR Books, 2 July 2007.
- Sam Kiley (20 March 2010). "The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna". The Times. London.
- The Independent Bath Literature Festival.
- The Hired Man, Aminattaforna.com
- Commonwealth Prize. Archived 3 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
- "Aminatta Forna wins Commonwealth Writers' honour", BBC News, 22 May 2011.
- Orange Prize for Fiction 2011 shortlist.
- Aminatta Forna page at Bloomsbury.
- "Reading Africa", Williams.
- "Lannan Foundation Chair in Poetics, 2015-2017", Georgetown University.
- "Writers from seven countries awarded $150,000 Yale prize", Yale News, 7 March 2014.
- "Aminatta Forna – Fiction 2014", Windham Campbell Prizes.
- Richard Lea, "Eight authors surprised by $150,000 Windham Campbell books prizes", theguardian.com, 7 March 2014.
- "The Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award 2015", BookTrust.
- "Finalists for the 2016 Neustadt International Prize for Literature", The Neustadt Prizes.
- "Aminatta Forna Nominated for Neustadt International Prize", Windham Campbell Prizes, 28 May 2015.
- "Finalists Announced for the 24th Neustadt International Prize for Literature", World Literature Today, 27 May 2015.
- "Judges", Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, 2016.
- "No. 61803". The London Gazette (Supplement). 31 December 2016. p. N11.
- "New Year's Honours 2017: CSV", Cabinet Office, 30 December 2016.
- Ben Glaze, Nina Massey, Dan Bloom, Sally Wardle, "New Year's Honours 2017: Full list of great and good awarded for services to Britain", Daily Mirror, 31 December 2016.
- "Writing the Future: Black and Asian Authors and Publishers in the UK Marketplace", The Royal Society of Literature, 16 April 2015.
- Aminatta Forna, "Aminatta Forna: don’t judge a book by its author", The Guardian, 13 February 2015.
- "Aminatta Forna", British Council – Literature.
- Maggie Barry (8 May 2011). "Acclaimed author reveals secret Scottish roots in moving tribute". Daily Record (Scotland).
- Sekou Daouda Bangura, "34 years after the execution of Mohamed Sorie Fornah and 14 others", The Patriotic Vanguard, 21 July 2009.
- "Ex-officials on trial for treason in Africa", Washington Afro-American, 15 October 1974.
- Anna Metcalfe, "Small Talk: Aminatta Forna" (interview), Financial Times, 26 April 2010.
- "Weldon and Hensher head to Bath Spa". The Bookseller. Retrieved 9 November 2012.
- Through African Eyes (videorecording), written and directed by Aminatta Forna; a BBC/RM Arts co-production; Smithsonian Institution Libraries.
- Africa Unmasked: The Black Man's Burden (2002), BFI.
- The Lost Libraries of Timbuktu, BBC Four.
- National Theatre website.
- Aminatta Fora profile, The Man Booker Prize.
- "The Man Booker International Prize 2013 – Judging Panel Announced", 2 December 2011.
- Nigel Farndale, "Aminatta Forna interview: unsilent witness", The Telegraph, 24 March 2013.
- E. Ethelbert Miller (edited by John Feffer), "Interview with R. Victoria Arana", Foreign Policy in Focus, 10 April 2008.
- Alfred Hickling, "The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna – review", The Guardian, 27 March 2013.
- "Aminatta Forna", Literature, The British Council.
- Thompson, Bob (3 November 2007). "New Chapters in the Story of Africa's People Are Honored". The Washington Post.
- Akbar, Arifa (2 April 2010). "Wartime loves and betrayals: Aminatta Forna's new novel casts a fresh light on old war wounds". The Independent. London.
- Commonwealth Foundation website. Archived 3 September 2011 at the Wayback Machine.
- "Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2011 winners revealed", 21 May 2011.
- "Shortlist 2012 – International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award", 12 April 2012.
- "Orange prize for fiction, Books, Fiction (Books genre), Culture, Emma Donoghue". The Guardian. London. 12 April 2011.
- Warwick Prize for Writing, 2011 shortlist.
- 10 Writers, 10x10.
- "Quality learning shouldn't be a pipe dream", 10x10, 19 June 2012.
- Vanessa Thorpe, "A-list stars support unique project to highlight need to educate girls", The Observer, 3 March 2013.
- 10x10 Presents "Girl Rising".
- Helen Dunmore, "The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna", The Times, 23 March 2013.
- Adrian Turpin, "We chip away at the past", Financial Times, 19 April 2013.
- Harry Ritchie, review of The Hired Man, MailOnline, 21 March 2013.
- Hannah McGill, Book review: The Hired Man – Aminatta Forna, The Scotsman, 27 March 2013.
- "The Hired Man" (review), Kirkus Reviews, 28 August 2013.
- "The Hired Man£ (review), Publishers Weekly, 2 September 2013.
- Manasi Subramaniam, "Burying the ghosts of the past, brick by brick" (review), The Sunday Guardian, 31 August 2013.
- Nigel Featherstone, "Eking beauty from the decay", Sydney Morning Herald, 3 August 2013.
- Geordie Williamson, "Brutal past bleeds into the present", The Australian, 11 May 2013.
- "Alternative Booker: Lindsey Hilsum on The Hired Man – video", Channel 4 News.
- Happiness on Aminatta Forna website.
- Jane Ciabattari, "Ten books to read in 2018", BBC Culture, 19 December 2017.
- Hope Wabuke, "These New and Upcoming Books by Black Authors Will Give You Life in These Perilous Times", The Root, 11 February 2018.
- Alex Preston, "Julian Barnes, Sebastian Faulks, Leïla Slimani … the best fiction for 2018", The Guardian, 31 December 2017.
- Arminta Wallace, "Books to look out for in 2018", Irish Times, 30 December 2017.
- Anita Sethi, "The biggest books of 2018", i News, 2 January 2018.
- Malcolm Forbes, "Review: 'Happiness,' by Aminatta Forna", Star Tribune, 9 March 2018.
- "Happiness by Aminatta Forna — the London that foxes know", Financial Times.
- Anna Mundow, "‘Happiness’: An exquisite novel about how chance and love connect us", The Washington Post, 8 March 2018.
- David Takami, "Aminatta Forna’s novel ‘Happiness’ begins as a mystery, becomes a romance", The Seattle Times, 17 March 2018.
- Happiness (review), Kirkus Review, 12 December 2017.
- "BBC National Short Story Award in partnership with Booktrust 2010".
- "Prize Citation for Aminatta Forna". Windham–Campbell Literature Prize. 7 March 2014. Retrieved 8 March 2014.
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