Chinelo Okparanta

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Chinelo Okparanta
Born Port Harcourt, Nigeria
Occupation novelist, short story writer
Nationality Nigeria; United States
Period 2010s
Notable works Happiness, Like Water, Under the Udala Trees

Chinelo Okparanta is a Nigerian-American writer.[1] Born and raised in Port Harcourt, Nigeria,[2] she emigrated to the United States with her family at the age of 10.[3]

Early life[edit]

Chinelo Okparanta was educated at Pennsylvania State University, Rutgers University and the Iowa Writers' Workshop.[2]


Okparanta has published short stories in publications including Granta, The New Yorker, Tin House, The Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, Conjunctions, Subtropics and The Coffin Factory, and has held fellowships or visiting professorships at The University of Iowa, Colgate University, Purdue University, City College of New York, and Columbia University. She is currently Tenure-Track Assistant Professor of English & Creative Writing (Fiction) at Bucknell University, where she is also C. Graydon and Mary E. Rogers Faculty Research Fellow.[2] Her essays have appeared in Granta, AGNI, The Story Prize blog, and the University of Iowa International Writing Program blog.

Her debut short-story collection, Happiness, Like Water (Granta Books), was longlisted for the 2013 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, a finalist for the 2014 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, and won the 2014 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction.[4] She has been nominated for a United States Artists Fellowship and was a finalist for the 2014 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative in Literature. Other honors include the 2013 Society of Midland Authors Award (finalist), the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing (finalist),[5] and a 2014 O. Henry Award (winner).

Happiness, Like Water was an Editors' Choice for The New York Times Book Review on September 20, 2013. The collection was also listed as one of The Guardian's Best African Fiction of 2013, and in December 2014 was announced as being a finalist for the Etisalat Prize for Literature.[6][7]

Her first novel, Under the Udala Trees, was published in 2015. The New York Times reviewer called Okparanta "a graceful and precise writer",[8] 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."[9]

Under the Udala Trees was a New York Times Book Review Editors' Choice as well as a nominee for the 2015 Kirkus Reviews Prize in Fiction. 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" and "Most Anticipated" lists, among others. It was long-listed for the 2015 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, nominated for the 2016 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work of Fiction, nominated for the 2016 Hurston-Wright Legacy Award in Fiction, a finalist for the 2016 Publishing Triangle Literary Awards (the Ferro-Grumley Award), a semi-finalist for the 2016 VCU Cabell First Novelist Award, long-listed for the 2016 Chautauqua Prize, and won the 2016 Lambda Literary Award in the General Lesbian Fiction category.

Under the Udala Trees also won the 2016 Jessie Redmon Fauset Book Award in Fiction and was a 2017 Amelia Bloomer Project Selection of the American Library Association.

In 2017, Okparanta won the Publishing Triangle's 2016 inaugural Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award. Under the Udala Trees was also shortlisted for the 2017 International Dublin Literary Award.

Pulse Nigeria named Under the Udala Trees one of its 10 Outstanding Nigerian Books for 2015.[10] YNaija listed it as one of its Ten Most Notable Books of 2015.[11] Afridiaspora listed it as one of the Best African Novels of 2015.[12]

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


  1. ^ Mythili Rao, "Chinelo Okparanta: Champion of the Stifled". The Daily Beast, August 19, 2013.
  2. ^ a b c 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. ^ Ron Charles, "Lambda Awards honor best lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender books", Washington Post, June 2, 2014.
  5. ^ Keira Brown, "The Missing Women of the Caine Prize", For Books' Sake, July 16, 2013.
  6. ^ "Candidates announced for Etisalat Prize for Literature", The Nation, December 14, 2014.
  7. ^ "Great Artistry Brought to Bear: Chinelo Okparanta is short-listed for the Etisalat Prize as she joins the faculty of Southern New Hampshire University's MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction program", GlobeNewswire, January 28, 2015.
  8. ^ Carol Anshaw, "‘Under the Udala Trees,’ by Chinelo Okparanta" (Sunday Book ), The New York Times, October 23, 2015.
  9. ^ Anjali Enjeti, "Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta review – love in the time of Biafra", The Guardian, September 24, 2015.
  10. ^ "10 outstanding Nigerian books for this year", Pulse, December 16, 2015.
  11. ^ Wilfred Okichie, "#YNAIJA2015REVIEW: THE FISHERMEN, BLACKASS, UNDER THE UDALA TREE… THE 10 MOST NOTABLE BOOKS OF 2015", YNaija, December 13, 2015.
  12. ^ Tolu Daniel, "The Afridiaspora List – The Best African Novels of 2015", Afridiaspora, December 22, 2015.

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