Chigozie Obioma

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Chigozie Obioma
Obioma in 2016
Obioma in 2016
Born1986 (age 37–38)[1]
Akure, Nigeria
  • Author
  • poet
  • professor
Alma materCyprus International University University of Michigan
Notable worksThe Fishermen (2015)
An Orchestra of Minorities (2019)

Chigozie Obioma (born 1986) is a Nigerian writer who wrote the novels The Fishermen (2015)[2] and An Orchestra of Minorities (2019),[3] both of which were shortlisted for the Booker Prize in their respective years of publication.[4][5] His work has been translated into more than 30 languages.[6]

As of 2021, Obioma is James E. Ryan Associate Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.[7]

Early life and influences[edit]

Of Igbo descent, Obioma was born in 1986[1] into a family of 12 children — seven brothers and four sisters – in Akure, in the south-western part of Nigeria,[8] where he grew up speaking Yoruba, Igbo, and English.[9]

As a child, he was fascinated by Greek myths and British writers, including Shakespeare, John Milton, and John Bunyan. Among African writers, he developed a strong affinity for Wole Soyinka's The Trials of Brother Jero; Cyprian Ekwensi's An African Night's Entertainment; Camara Laye's The African Child; and D. O. Fagunwa's Ògbójú Ọdẹ nínú Igbó Irúnmalẹ̀, which he read in its original Yoruba version.[10]

Obioma cites his seminal influences as The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola, for its breadth of imagination; Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, for its enduring grace and heart; The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy and Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, both for the power of their prose; and Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe, for its firmness in Igbo culture and philosophy.[11]


Obioma was awarded a residency at Omi's Ledig House in 2012,[8] and completed an Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Michigan, where he received Hopwood Awards for fiction (2013)[12] and poetry (2014).[13]

Career and other activities[edit]

In December 2020 Obioma was named as a judge for the 2021 Booker Prize.[14]

As of 2021, he is James E. Ryan Associate Professor of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.[7]

In January 2023, Obioma announced the Oxbelly Writers Retreat, a writers retreat which he had founded with the vision of bringing writers from all over the world, no matter their means or origin, to come together, share and put their ideas together.[15]


The Fishermen[edit]

Obioma finished his first novel, The Fishermen, while completing his residency at Ledig House in 2012.[8] It was published in 2015, and won many accolades. It was listed as a 2015 New York Times Sunday Book Review Notable Book,[16] a New York Times Sunday Book Review Editor's Choice selection,[17] and a best book of the year for 2015 by The Observer (UK),[18] The Economist,[19] The Financial Times,[20] The Wall Street Journal,[21] Apple/iBook, Book Riot,[22] the Minnesota Star Tribune,[23] NPR, Library Journal, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the New Zealand Listener, Relevant Magazine, British GQ, and others.[24] The Fishermen was also named one of the American Library Association's five best debuts of spring 2015,[25] a Publishers Weekly book of the week,[26] and one of Kirkus Reviews′ "10 Novels to Lose Yourself In."[27] In December 2019 it was named one of the best books of the decade by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Radio National's "book experts", Kate Evans and Sarah L'Estrange.[28]

It won several awards: the FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Award, the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Debut Author, the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction,[29] the Nebraska Book Award For Fiction 2016, and the Earphones Award for the Audiobook of The Fishermen.[30]

Obioma states that, in addition to being a tribute to his siblings, the novel aims to "build a portrait of Nigeria at a very seminal moment in its history (the annulled presidential elections of 1993), and by so doing deconstruct and illuminate the ideological potholes that still impede the nation's progress even today."[10] He began writing the novel in 2009, while living in Cyprus to complete his bachelor's degree at Cyprus International University,[31] where he graduated at the top of his class.[32] The idea for the novel came when he reflected on his father's joy at the growing bond between his two eldest brothers who, as children, had maintained a strong rivalry that would sometimes culminate in fistfights. As Obioma began pondering what was the worst that could have happened at that time, the image of the Agwu family came to him. Then he created Abulu as the facilitator of conflict between the brothers. On a larger thematic note, Obioma wanted the novel to comment on the socio-political situation of Nigeria: the prophesying madman here being the British, and the recipients of the vision being the people of Nigeria (three major tribes cohabiting to form a nation).[8]

New Perspectives theatre company presented a stage adaptation of The Fishermen adapted by Gbolahan Obisesan from 2018.[33]

An Orchestra of Minorities[edit]

Little, Brown and Company published Obioma's highly anticipated second novel, An Orchestra of Minorities, in January 2019.[34] Drawing on Obioma's own experiences studying abroad in northern Cyprus, An Orchestra of Minorities tells the story of a Nigerian poultry farmer who, determined to make money to prove himself worthy of the woman he loves, travels to northern Cyprus, where he is confronted by racism and scammed by corrupt middlemen.[35][36] Obioma was particularly inspired by his friend Jay, who was found dead at the bottom of a lift shaft in Cyprus after having his tuition funds embezzled by fixers.[35][37]

The novel was listed as an E! online Top 20 Books to read in 2020 and a New York Times Editor's Choice. It was also named a best book of the year for 2019 by the BBC, Houston Chronicle, Financial Times, TIME,, Publishers Weekly, Minnesota Star Tribune, Waterstones, ChannelsTV, Columbia Tribune, New York Library, Manchester Union, and Brittlepaper, as well as being Salman Rushdie's Celebrity Pick of the Year.

Other publications[edit]

Obioma has published several short stories: a short story version of The Fishermen in Virginia Quarterly Review,[38] "The Great Convert" in Transition magazine,[39] "Midnight Sun" in the New Statesman,[40] and "The Strange Story of the World" on[41] He has also published several essays: "The Audacity of Prose" in The Millions;[42] "Teeth Marks: The Translator's Dilemma" in Poets & Writers;[43] "Finding The Light Under The Bushel: How One Writer Came To Love Books" in The New York Times; and "The Ghosts of My Student Years in Northern Cyprus," "Lagos is expected to double in size in 15 years: how will my city possibly cope?", "Africa Has Been Failed By Westernisation," "Life-Saving Optimism: What the West Can Learn From Africa," and "Toni Morrison: Farewell to America's Greatest Writer" in The Guardian.


Awards and recognition[edit]

In a 2015 review in The New York Times, Obioma was called "the heir to Chinua Achebe".[44] In the same year, he was named one of "100 Global Thinkers" by Foreign Policy magazine.[45]

For An Orchestra of Minorities:

  • Joint winner, Internationaler Literaturpreis[46]
  • Finalist, 2019 Man Booker Prize[47]
  • Finalist, Digital Book World Awards 2019[48]
  • Finalist, Kulturhuset Internationella Pris for Best Translated Fiction[49]
  • Finalist, La sélection du prix du livre étranger JDD/France Inter 2020[50]

For The Fishermen:

  • Winner, FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Award[51]
  • Winner, NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work - Debut Author[52]
  • Winner, Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction[53]
  • Winner, Nebraska Book Award For Fiction 2016[54]
  • Winner, Earphones Award for the Audiobook of The Fishermen[55]
  • Finalist, 2015 Man Booker Prize[56]
  • Shortlisted in the Belles-Lettres Category of the Grand Prix of Literary Associations 2016[57]
  • Finalist, Center for Fiction First Novel Prize[58]
  • Finalist, Edinburgh Festival First Book Award[59]
  • Finalist, The Guardian First Book Award[60]
  • Finalist, British Book Industry Award for Best Debut Fiction[61]
  • Finalist, Best Debut Goodreads Author Award[62]
  • Longlisted, International Dylan Thomas Prize[63]


  1. ^ a b "Chigozie Obioma". Scribe Publications. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
  2. ^ Habila, Helon (13 March 2015). "The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma review – four brothers and a terrible prophecy". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  3. ^ Cummins, Anthony (15 January 2019). "An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obioma – review". The Observer. ISSN 0029-7712. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  4. ^ "The Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2015 shortlist is revealed | The Booker Prizes". Retrieved 13 September 2019.
  5. ^ "The 2019 Booker Prize Shortlist announced | The Booker Prizes". Retrieved 13 September 2019.
  6. ^ Booy, Simon Van (16 June 2020). "Chigozie Obioma: The WD Interview". Writer's Digest. Retrieved 27 March 2021.
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  8. ^ a b c d "2, 2 and 2: Chigozie Obioma talks about The Fishermen". looking up/looking down. 23 February 2015.
  9. ^ Go, Nathan (9 April 2015). "Of Animal Metaphors and the British Legacy: An Interview with Chigozie Obioma". Michigan Quarterly Review.
  10. ^ a b Lappin, Elena, "Q&A With Chigozie Obioma" Archived 22 September 2015 at the Wayback Machine, Pushkin Press, November 2014.
  11. ^ "Ask the Author: Chigozie Obioma", New York Public Library.
  12. ^ The Hopwood Newsletter Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Vol. LXXIV, 2, July 2013.
  13. ^ The Hopwood Newsletter Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine, Vol. LXXV, 2, July 2014.
  14. ^ Campbell, Joel (21 December 2020). "Chigozie Obioma's on the judges panel for 2021 Booker Prize". The Voice.
  15. ^ Mag, Open Country (17 January 2023). "Apply to Oxbelly's Episodic Program and Retreat for Literary and TV Writers". Open Country Mag. Retrieved 20 January 2023.
  16. ^ "100 Notable Books of 2015". The New York Times. 27 November 2015. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 5 June 2016.
  17. ^ "Editors' Choice", New York Times Sunday Book Review, 24 April 2015.
  18. ^ "£50,000 Booker Prize: Nigerian Novelist, Chigozie Obioma, Shortlisted Again - P.M. News". Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  19. ^ Okoh, Lize (2 May 2018). "The Top West African Diaspora Authors You Must Read". Culture Trip. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  20. ^ "Chigozie Obioma — Emerging Voices 2015 fiction winner". 6 October 2015. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  21. ^ "West End Transfer for The Fishermen". 25 March 2019. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  22. ^ "Chigozie Obioma | Department of English | Nebraska". Retrieved 29 May 2020.
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  24. ^ "Nigerian Novelist, Chigozie Obioma, Shortlisted Again for Booker Prize -". The NEWS. 3 September 2019. Retrieved 29 May 2020.
  25. ^ "AAP/LibraryReads: Debut Authors Panel". Archived from the original on 13 July 2015. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
  26. ^ "PW Picks: Books of the Week, April 13, 2015". Publishers Weekly. 10 April 2015.
  27. ^ "10 Novels to Lose Yourself In (pg. 1)". Kirkus Reviews.
  28. ^ Evans, Kate; L'Estrange, Sarah (29 December 2019). "Best books of the decade: The non-definitive, highly subjective list". ABC News. Retrieved 18 January 2020.
  29. ^ "Chigozie Obioma". Craig Literary. Retrieved 6 November 2020.
  30. ^ "The Fishermen (2015)". Chigozie Obioma. Retrieved 6 November 2020.
  31. ^ Obioma, Chigozie (16 January 2016), "The ghosts of my student years in northern Cyprus", The Guardian.
  32. ^ Sayfa, Ana (26 February 2015). "Former CIU Student Publishes Novel to International Acclaim". UKÜ Haber Ajansı. CIU News Agency.
  33. ^ "The Fishermen - New Perspectives". New Perspectives. Retrieved 2 April 2019.
  34. ^ Cowdrey, Katherine (27 April 2017). "Chigozie Obioma's modern epic to Little, Brown". Retrieved 1 June 2018.
  35. ^ a b Brockes, Emma (18 January 2019). "'Why Jay?': Chigozie Obioma on the haunting death that inspired his novel". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  36. ^ Rakoczy, Agnieszka (20 December 2017). "Novelist's African dream". Cyprus Mail. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  37. ^ Obioma, Chigozie (16 January 2016). "Chigozie Obioma: the ghosts of my student years in northern Cyprus". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 18 January 2019.
  38. ^ Obioma, Chigozie. "Fishermen".
  39. ^ Obioma (2014). "The Great Convert • Fiction". Transition (114): 146–162. doi:10.2979/transition.114.146. JSTOR 10.2979/transition.114.146.
  40. ^ Obioma, Chigozie (14 August 2016). "Midnight Sun". Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  41. ^ "The Strange Story of the World". Granta Magazine. 28 November 2019. Retrieved 22 January 2020.
  42. ^ Obioma, Chigozie (8 June 2015). "The Audacity of Prose". The Millions.
  43. ^ Obioma, Chigozie (January–February 2016). "Teeth Marks: The Translator's Dilemma | Poets and Writers". Retrieved 20 September 2016.
  44. ^ Rocco, Fiametta (14 April 2015), "'The Fishermen,' by Chigozie Obioma" (review), The New York Times.
  45. ^ "The Leading Global Thinkers of 2015". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 5 June 2016.
  46. ^ "International Literature Award honors 6 books". Deutsche Welle. Archived from the original on 5 June 2020.
  47. ^ "Atwood and Rushdie on Booker Prize shortlist". BBC News. 3 September 2019.
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  50. ^ "La sélection du prix du livre étranger JDD/France Inter 2020". Livres Hebdo (in French). Retrieved 22 January 2020.
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  52. ^ "NAACP Image Awards - Inside the Show". Archived from the original on 28 August 2016. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
  53. ^ "Los Angeles Times - Festival of Books". Festival of Books. Archived from the original on 25 May 2017. Retrieved 10 April 2016.
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  57. ^ Source:
  58. ^ "Announcing the Short List for the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize". The Center for Fiction. Archived from the original on 20 August 2015.
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  60. ^ "Guardian first book award shortlist 2015", The Guardian, 13 November 2015.
  61. ^ "2016 Shortlist | The Bookseller". Retrieved 5 June 2016.
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  63. ^ "Longlist announced for 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize". Archived from the original on 3 April 2016. Retrieved 5 June 2016.

External links[edit]

Archived 4 March 2021 at the Wayback Machine