Chinelo Okparanta

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Chinelo Okparanta
Born1981 (age 41–42)
Port Harcourt, Nigeria
OccupationNovelist, short-story writer
NationalityNigeria; United States
Alma mater
Notable worksHappiness, Like Water (2013); Under the Udala Trees (2015)
Official website

Chinelo Okparanta (born 1981) is a Nigerian-American novelist and short-story writer.[1] She was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, where she was raised[2] until the age of 10, when she emigrated to the United States with her family.[3]

Early life[edit]

Chinelo Okparanta was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, and at the age of 10 migrated with her family to the US. She was educated at Pennsylvania State University (Schreyer Honors College), Rutgers University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop.[2]


Okparanta has published short stories in publications including Granta,[4] The New Yorker, Tin House, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, Conjunctions, Subtropics and The Coffin Factory. Her essays have appeared in AGNI, The Story Prize blog, and the University of Iowa, International Writing Program blog.[5] Okparanta has held fellowships or visiting professorships at The University of Iowa, Colgate University, Purdue University, City College of New York, and Columbia University.[6] She was associate professor of English & Creative Writing (Fiction) at Bucknell University, where she was also C. Graydon & Mary E. Rogers Faculty Research Fellow as well as Margaret Hollinshead Ley Professor in Poetry & Creative Writing until 2021. She is currently associate professor of English and Director of the Program in Creative Writing at Swarthmore College.[7]

Her debut short-story collection, Happiness, Like Water (Granta Books and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), was longlisted for the 2013 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award,[8] a finalist for the 2014 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award,[9] and won the 2014 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction.[10] She has been nominated for a United States Artists Fellowship[11] and was a finalist for the 2014 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative in Literature.[12] Other honors include the 2013 Society of Midland Authors Award (finalist),[13] the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing (finalist), and more.[14]

Her short story "Fairness" was 2014 included in The PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, among 20 short stories of this year.[15]

Happiness, Like Water was an Editors' Choice for The New York Times Book Review on September 20, 2013.[16] The collection was also listed as one of The Guardian's Best African Fiction of 2013,[17] and in December 2014 was announced as being a finalist for the Nigerian Etisalat Prize for Literature.[18][19]

Her first novel, Under the Udala Trees, was published in 2015. The New York Times reviewer called Okparanta "a graceful and precise writer",[20] and The Guardian (UK) describes the book as "a gripping novel about a young gay woman's coming of age in Nigeria during the Nigerian civil war..." in which "...Okparanta deftly negotiates a balance between a love story and a war story."[21]

Under the Udala Trees was a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice[22] as well as a nominee for the 2015 Kirkus Reviews Prize in Fiction.[23] One of NPR's "Best Books of 2015", it also made the BuzzFeed, The Wall Street Journal, The Millions, Bustle, Shelf Awareness, and Publishers Lunch "Best of"[24] and "Most Anticipated" lists, among others. It was long-listed for the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize,[25] nominated for the 2016 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work of Fiction,[26] nominated for the 2016 Hurston-Wright Legacy Award in Fiction,[27] a finalist for the 2016 Publishing Triangle Literary Awards (the Ferro-Grumley Award),[28] a semi-finalist for the 2016 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award,[29] long-listed for the 2016 Chautauqua Prize,[citation needed] and won the 2016 Lambda Literary Award in the General Lesbian Fiction category.[30]

Under the Udala Trees also won the 2016 Jessie Redmon Fauset Book Award in Fiction[31] and was a 2017 Amelia Bloomer Project Selection of the American Library Association.[32] It was also shortlisted for the 2017 International Dublin Literary Award.[33]

In 2017, Okparanta won the Publishing Triangle's 2016 inaugural Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award.[34]

Pulse Nigeria named Under the Udala Trees one of its 10 Outstanding Nigerian Books for 2015.[35] YNaija listed it as one of its Ten Most Notable Books of 2015.[36] Afridiaspora listed it as one of the Best African Novels of 2015.[37]

In April 2017, Okparanta was selected by Granta for their once in a decade Best of Young American Novelists list.[38][39]

Her essay "Trump in the Classroom" is included in the 2019 anthology New Daughters of Africa, edited by Margaret Busby.[40]


Chinelo Okparanta has been credited for being a champion for marginalized and underprivileged voices throughout her career by the novelist, Helon Habila.[41]

Okparanta’s three books, “Happiness Like Water,” “Under the Udala Tree,” and her most recent, “Harry Sylvester Bird” have championed the stories of LGBTQ community and people of color through local insider perspective and interracial outsider perspectives.

The most notable thing about Okparanta is that began writing about these demographics in the time when it was dangerous to do so especially from around Nigeria. Her courage in telling her story is a contrast from her gentle and retreating personality, hence in a profile on the Open Country Magazine by Paula Willie-Okafor, Okparanta was tagged, “The Gentle Defier.”

Zimbabwean Novelist, NoViolet Bulawayo considers Okparanta,

“…a formidable force.” In her words, “She [Okparanta] doesn’t tell easy stories, she tells necessary, even earth-shifting ones—the initial reception of Under the Udala Trees is a good case of the impact of her work. We know a writer is actually doing their job right when they make people lose their shit. They are also doing an even more important job when they make others possible. In choosing to tell humanizing stories that defied the literary trends and silence around African queer life, Chinelo became an important part of the reason why we are today in a position to celebrate the flourishing of writing that rightly holds African queerness to the sun.”[42]



  1. ^ Mythili Rao, "Chinelo Okparanta: Champion of the Stifled". The Daily Beast, August 19, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Rae Winkelstein-Duveneck, "Religion, The Bible, and Personal Morality: An Interview with Chinelo Okparanta", The Iowa Review, March 19, 2013.
  3. ^ Ligaya Mishan, "How She Left: 'Happiness, Like Water,' by Chinelo Okparanta" (review), The New York Times Book Review, September 15, 2013.
  4. ^ "Chinelo Okparanta". Granta. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  5. ^ Munllonch, Montse Domínguez i (July 11, 2019). "Books to read and see. Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta.⁠". misitio. Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  6. ^ "New Voices in Fiction Reading by Chinelo Okparanta | UChicago Arts | The University of Chicago". Retrieved May 28, 2020.
  7. ^ "Swarthmore College Bulletin - Course Catalog. English Literature". Retrieved July 7, 2021.
  8. ^ Dennis-Benn, Nicole Y. (July 22, 2014). "Chinelo Okparanta: Interview". Mosaic Literary Magazine. Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  9. ^ Services, UH Libraries Web (February 13, 2019). "Poetry and Prose February 20 | University of Houston Libraries". Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  10. ^ Charles, Ron (June 2, 2014). "Lambda Awards honor best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books". The Washington Post.
  11. ^ "Chinelo Okparanta". PEN America. March 7, 2014. Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  12. ^ "Lambda Literary Leadership Archives | Lambda Literary". Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  13. ^ "Celebrated young author to speak at PSU". pittstate. October 7, 2014. Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  14. ^ Brown, Keira (July 16, 2013). "The Missing Women of the Caine Prize". For Books' Sake. Archived from the original on August 21, 2013.
  15. ^ "The O. Henry Prize Stories | Chinelo Okparanto", Author Spotlight, Random House.
  16. ^ Mishan, Ligaya (September 13, 2013). "How She Left". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  17. ^ Afritorial; Network, part of the Guardian Africa (December 17, 2013). "Best African fiction of 2013". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  18. ^ Sam-Duru, Prisca; Princewill Ekwujuru (March 11, 2015). "Who wins Etisalat Prize for Literature 2014?". Vanguard News. Retrieved May 29, 2020.
  19. ^ "Candidates announced for Etisalat Prize for Literature", The Nation, December 14, 2014.
  20. ^ Carol Anshaw, "'Under the Udala Trees,' by Chinelo Okparanta" (Sunday Book ), The New York Times, October 23, 2015.
  21. ^ Anjali Enjeti, "Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta review – love in the time of Biafra", The Guardian, September 24, 2015.
  22. ^ Okparanta, Chinelo (September 22, 2015). Under the Udala Trees. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-544-00336-1.
  23. ^ The New Yorker (September 14, 2018). "The 2018 National Book Awards Longlist: Fiction". The New Yorker. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  24. ^ Publishers Lunch, Favorite Books of 2015, From the News Editor
  25. ^ Clift, Elayne. "Under the Udala Trees: A Novel". Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  26. ^ "Africa's Young Literary Stars". The Single Story Foundation. August 15, 2016. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  27. ^ "Hurston/Wright Foundation | Hurston/Wright Foundation Announces 2016 Legacy Awards". October 24, 2016. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  28. ^ "The Ferro–Grumley Awards". The Publishing Triangle. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  29. ^ "2016 News | First Novelist Semifinalists 2016 | VCU Libraries". Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  30. ^ "Award Winners | Oakland Public Library". Retrieved May 30, 2020.[permanent dead link]
  31. ^ "Clarke's Books". Archived from the original on February 24, 2020. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  32. ^ "2018 Permafrost Book Prize in Fiction – Permafrost Magazine". Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  33. ^ "Under the Udala Trees | 2017 shortlist!". International Dublin Literary Award. September 3, 2019. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  34. ^ York, Carnegie Corporation of New. "Chinelo Okparanta". Carnegie Corporation of New York. Retrieved May 30, 2020.
  35. ^ "10 outstanding Nigerian books for this year" Archived April 23, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, Pulse, December 16, 2015.
  36. ^ Wilfred Okichie, "#YNAIJA2015REVIEW: THE FISHERMEN, BLACKASS, UNDER THE UDALA TREE… THE 10 MOST NOTABLE BOOKS OF 2015", YNaija, December 13, 2015.
  37. ^ Tolu Daniel, "The Afridiaspora List – The Best African Novels of 2015", Afridiaspora, December 22, 2015.
  38. ^ "Granta 139: Best of Young American Novelists 3", Granta, Spring 2017.
  39. ^ "Granta's list of the best young American novelists", The Guardian, April 26, 2017.
  40. ^ Delgado, Anjanette (May 6, 2019). "New Daughters of Africa: An International Anthology of Writing by Women of African Descent". New York Journal of Books.
  41. ^ Willie-Okafor, Paula (December 13, 2022). "Cover Story: Chinelo Okparanta, Iconic Storyteller of Queer Femininity, on Writing Race and Defying Convention". Open Country Mag. Retrieved January 20, 2023.
  42. ^ Willie-Okafor, Paula (December 13, 2022). "Cover Story: Chinelo Okparanta, Iconic Storyteller of Queer Femininity, on Writing Race and Defying Convention". Open Country Mag. Retrieved July 11, 2023.
  43. ^ Whittaker, Nicholas (July 12, 2022). "'Harry Sylvester Bird' Is a Satire of Antiracist Art". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 11, 2023.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]