Nnedi Okorafor

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Nnedi Okorafor
Okorafor in 2017
Okorafor in 2017
BornNnedimma Nkemdili Okorafor
(1974-04-08) April 8, 1974 (age 49)
Cincinnati, Ohio, U.S.
OccupationWriter, professor
EducationUniversity of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (BA)
Michigan State University (MA)
University of Illinois, Chicago (MA, PhD)
GenreScience fiction, Africanfuturism
Fantasy, Africanjujuism, Solarpunk
Notable awardsWole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa
The World Fantasy Award
Nebula Award for Best Novella
Hugo Award for Best Novella
Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album — Reprint
Lodestar Award
Locus Award for Best Young Adult Novel
Carl Brandon Parallax Award

Nnedimma Nkemdili "Nnedi" Okorafor// (formerly Okorafor-Mbachu; born April 8, 1974)[1] is a Nigerian American writer of science fiction and fantasy for both children and adults. She is best known for her Binti Series and her novels Who Fears Death, Zahrah the Windseeker, Akata Witch, Akata Warrior, Lagoon and Remote Control. She has also written for comics and film.

Her writing is Africanfuturism and Africanjujuism, which is heavily influenced by her dual Nigerian and American heritage.[2][3] She is the recipient of multiple awards, including the Hugo Award, Nebula Award, Eisner Award and World Fantasy Award. She is considered to be among the third generation of Nigerian writers.[4]

Background and personal life[edit]

Nnedimma Nkemdili Okorafor was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1974 to Igbo Nigerian parents who travelled to America in 1969[5] to attend school[clarification needed] but could not return to Nigeria due to the Nigerian Civil War.[6] She holds both American and Nigerian citizenship.[7]

Okorafor is the third child in a family of four children and grew up in Chicago, Illinois, often travelling to Nigeria to spend holidays with her extended family.[8] Her first name is Igbo for "mother is good".[9]

During her years attending Homewood-Flossmoor High School in Flossmoor, Illinois, Okorafor was a nationally-known tennis and track star[10] and excelled in math and the sciences. She wanted to be an entomologist.[11]

She was diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 13, a condition that worsened as she grew older. At age 19, she underwent spinal fusion surgery to straighten and fuse her spine; a rare complication led to Okorafor becoming paralyzed from the waist down.[10]

Okorafor turned to writing small stories in the margins of a science-fiction book that she had. It was the first time she had ever written anything creatively. That summer, with intense physical therapy, Okorafor regained her ability to walk with a cane, but she was unable to continue her athletic career. At the suggestion of a friend, she took a creative writing class that spring semester and was writing her first novel by the semester's end.[12]

She completed her college education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, before obtaining a master's degree in journalism from Michigan State University and a master's degree and PhD in English from the University of Illinois, Chicago.[13][14] She is a 2001 graduate of the Clarion Writers Workshop in Lansing, Michigan. She currently lives in Arizona with her family.[15]


Short stories[edit]

Okorafor received a 2001 Hurston-Wright literary award for her story "Amphibious Green".[16] Okorafor's short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines, including Dark Matter: Reading The Bones, Enkare Review, Strange Horizons, Moondance magazine, and Writers of the Future Volume XVIII. A collection of her stories, titled Kabu Kabu, was published by Prime Books in 2013. It includes the titular piece, co-authored by Alan Dean Foster, six other previously unpublished short stories, and 14 stories that had been previously published in other venues since 2001, with a foreword by Whoopi Goldberg.[17]

Novels and novellas[edit]

After her 2001 Hurston-Wright award, she published two acclaimed books for young adults, The Shadow Speaker (Hyperion/Disney Book Group) and Zahrah the Windseeker (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). The Shadow Speaker was a winner of the Carl Brandon Parallax Award, a Booksense Pick for Winter 2007/2008, a Tiptree Honor Book,[18] a finalist for the Essence Magazine Literary Award, the Andre Norton Award and the Golden Duck Award, and an NAACP Image Award nominee.[citation needed] Her children's book, Long Juju Man, was the 2007–08 winner of the Macmillan Writer's Prize for Africa.[19]

Okorafor's first adult novel, Who Fears Death (DAW/Penguin Books), won the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel,[20] was nominated for the 2010 Nebula Award.[21] The prequel The Book of Phoenix won the 2018 Kurd Laßwitz Preis[22] and was a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.[23]

In 2011, she returned to young adult with Akata Witch (Viking/Penguin), the first book in the Nsibidi Scripts Series, which was a Junior Library Guild Selection. The sequel, Akata Warrior, went on to win the 2018 Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book.[citation needed]

Okorafor's science fiction novel Lagoon was a finalist for a British Science Fiction Association Award (Best Novel), a Red Tentacle Award (Best Novel), and a Tiptree Honor Book.[citation needed][24][25]

The Binti trilogy began with the 2015 novella, Binti. This was followed by Binti: Home, published in 2017, and Binti: The Night Masquerade, published in 2018. Binti won both the 2016 Nebula Award and 2016 Hugo Award for best novella,[26][27] and was a finalist for a British Science Fiction Association Award (Best Short) and BooktubeSFF Award (Best Short Work).[citation needed] Binti: Home and Binti: The Night Masquerade both received Hugo nominations for best novella in 2018 and 2019, respectively.[28][29]

Also in 2016, the United Bank for Africa, a Nigerian bank, partnered with Cassava Republic Press to distribute 24,000 copies of Okorafor's novel Akata Witch in nine African countries.[30]

In 2020, Okorafor released her middle grade novel Ikenga, which was nominated for the Edgar Award.[31]

Okorafor's science fiction novella Remote Control, set in a near future Ghana, was published in January 2021. Her adult novel Noor, set in a futurist northern Nigeria, was released in November 2021.[32]

In January 2022, Okorafor's Akata Woman, the third novel in the Nsibidi Scripts Series, was released. Following the release of the novel, the series debuted on The New York Times Best Seller list.[33][34][35][36]

In 2023, Okorafor announced her novella trilogy She Who Knows which would serve as a prequel and sequel to her 2010 novel Who Fears Death and would focus on the life of Najeeba, Onyesonwu's mother. The first novella is scheduled for publication in 2024. [37][38]


In February 2017, Okorafor announced via Facebook that her science-meets-witchcraft short story "Hello, Moto" had been optioned by Nigerian production company Fiery Film.[39][40] The story was adapted into a short film, titled Hello, Rain by filmmaker C. J. Obasi.[41] The story tells the tale of a woman who discovers that she can merge witchcraft and technology when she creates wigs for herself and her friends that allow them to wield influence and power, to help battle corruption. Instead, she watches her friends themselves become corrupted.[40][42] A teaser was released in January 2018.[43][44] Hello, Rain had its world premiere at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen on May 6, 2018.[45]

In July 2017, Okorafor announced via Twitter that Who Fears Death had been picked up by HBO to become a television series, with novelist and Game of Thrones producer George R. R. Martin joining the project as an executive producer.[46] Okorafor will remain involved with the project as a consultant.[47] In January 2021, it was announced that Tessa Thompson's newly formed production company, Viva Maude, had joined the team.[48]

In April 2019, it was announced that Okorafor would co-write the screenplay of an adaptation of Octavia Butler's Wild Seed with filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu for Amazon Prime Video and reportedly will be produced by Viola Davis.[49]

In January 2020, it was announced that Okorafor would co-write the screenplay of an adaptation of her Binti trilogy for Hulu with writer Stacy Osei-Kuffour.[50][51]

Other work[edit]

In 2005, Okorafor wrote and published her first play, Full Moon. The Buxville Theater Company in Chicago helped produce this full-length theatrical work.[52]

In 2009, Okorafor donated her archive to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) Collection of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at the Northern Illinois University Library.[53]

Okorafor was the Young Adult Author special Guest of Honor at Detcon1, the 2014 North American Science Fiction Convention; Detcon1 was putting special emphasis on YA science fiction.[54]

She spoke at the TEDGlobal conference in Arusha, Tanzania, in August 2017.[55]

In October 2017, Okorafor announced via Twitter she would be writing three issues for Marvel's Black Panther comic, picking up where author Ta-Nehisi Coates left off. The first issue of Black Panther: Long Live the King was released in December 2017.[56][57] A month earlier, a short comic of hers titled "Blessing in Disguise" was included in Marvel's Venomverse War Stories No. 1, inspired by the 2014 Boko Haram kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian girls.[58] In March 2017, it was announced that she would return to writing derived from the Black Panther, in Wakanda Forever, where the Dora Milaje team-up with Spider-Man, the X-Men and the Avengers.[59] In July 2018, it announced that Okorafor would write a solo title focused on Black Panther's sister, Shuri.[60][61]

Broken Places & Outer Spaces, Okorafor's first non-fiction title, was published by Simon & Schuster in 2019.[62]

Okorafor contributed the essay "Zula of the fourth-grade playground" to the 2019 anthology New Daughters of Africa, edited by Margaret Busby.[63]

In 2018, her comic book limited series LaGuardia was published by Berger Books. In 2020, the collected trade won an Eisner Award and a Hugo Award.[64]

Influences and themes[edit]

Okorafor's novels and stories reflect both her West African heritage and her American life. Rather than identifying as Nigerian-American, she refers to herself as "Naijamerican" and explains the importance of her dual heritage during a 2016 NPR interview:

That's very much a part of my identity, and it's also very much a reason why I think I ended up writing science fiction and fantasy because I live on these borders – and these borders that allow me to see from multiple perspectives and kind of take things in and then kind of process certain ideas and certain stories in a very unique way. And that has led me to write this strange fiction that I write, which really isn't that strange if you really look at it through a sort of skewed lens.[65]

Okorafor noticed how the fantasy and science fiction genre contain little diversity, and that was her motivation for writing books of these genres set in Africa. She wanted to include more people of color and create stories with Africa as the setting because so few stories were set there. She wrote her first story as a college sophomore and made the setting of her story Nigeria.[6] Her stories place black girls in important roles that are usually given to white characters.[11] Okorafor cites Nigeria as "her muse" as she is heavily influenced by Nigerian folklore and its rich mythology and mysticism.[11]

Gary K. Wolfe wrote of her work: "Okorafor's genius has been to find the iconic images and traditions of African culture, mostly Nigerian and often Igbo, and tweak them just enough to become a seamless part of her vocabulary of fantastika."[66]

Her work often looks at "weighty social issues: racial and gender inequality, political violence, the destruction of the environment, genocide and corruption" through "the framework of fantasy".[11]

Okorafor shares that while the themes of her stories are often multi-layered they are always grounded in "stories of the women and girls around me and also within myself".[65]

Okorafor asserts that her work and parental responsibility relate to each other because "writing and being a mother are a part of me, so they are mixed together and balance each other out."[67]

As of 2019, she began strongly rejecting the term "afrofuturism" as a label for her work and coined the terms africanfuturism and africanjujuism instead. In October 2019, she published an essay titled "Defining Africanfuturism" that defines both terms in detail.[3]

World Fantasy Award[edit]

Shortly after winning the World Fantasy Award in 2011, Okorafor published an essay "Lovecraft's racism & The World Fantasy Award statuette, with comments from China Miéville", in which she reflected upon her conflicting emotions on winning an award in the shape of a large silver bust of H. P. Lovecraft. She would later voice her support for Daniel José Older's 2014 petition[68] to replace the Lovecraft bust with one of Octavia Butler. In the essay, she acknowledges both the literary legacy of Lovecraft and his continued influence in the contemporary world of science fiction:

Do I want "The Howard" (the nickname for the World Fantasy Award statuette. Lovecraft's full name is "Howard Phillips Lovecraft") replaced with the head of some other great writer? Maybe. Maybe it's about that time. Maybe not. What I know I want is to face the history of this leg of literature rather than put it aside or bury it. If this is how some of the great minds of speculative fiction felt, then let's deal with that ... as opposed to never mention it or explain it away.[68]


Novel and Novellas[edit]

Award Year Category Work Result Ref.
Hugo Award 2016 Best Novella Binti Won [27]
2018 Binti: Home Nominated [69]
2019 Binti: The Night Masquerade Nominated [69]
2018 Lodestar Award Akata Warrior Won [69]
Nebula Award 2011 Best Novel Who Fears Death Nominated [69]
2016 Best Novella Binti Won [69]
2008 Andre Norton Award The Shadow Speaker Finalist [69]
2012 Akata Witch Finalist [69]
World Fantasy Award 2011 Best Novel Who Fears Death Won [20]
Locus Award 2006 Best First Novel Zahrah The Windseeker Nominated [69]
2008 Best Young Adult book The Shadow Speaker Nominated [69]
2011 Akata Witch Nominated [69]
2019 Akata Warrior Won [69]
2011 Best Science fiction Who Fears Death Nominated [69]
2022 Noor Finalist [70]
2014 Best Collection Kabu Kabu Nominated [69]
2016 Best Novella Binti Nominated [69]
2018 Binti: Home Nominated [69]
2022 Remote Control Finalist [70]
Nommo Award 2018 Best Novel Akata Warrior Nominated [69]
2016 Best Novella Binti Won [69]
2018 Binti: Home Nominated [69]
2019 Binti:The Night Masquerade Nominated [69]
Arthur C. Clarke Award 2016 Best Novel The Book of Phoenix Shortlisted [69]
British Fantasy Award Best Novella Binti Nominated [69]
2019 Binti: The Night Masquerade Nominated [69]
British SF Association Award 2015 Best Novel Lagoon Nominated [69]
2016 Best Short Story Binti Nominated [71]
Otherwise Award 2008 Honor List The Shadow Speaker Won [69]
2011 Who Fears Death Won [69]
2015 Lagoon Won [69]
John W. Campbell Memorial Award 2016 Best Novel The Book of Phoenix Finalist [69]
Carl Brandon Award 2006 Kindred Award Zahrah The Windseeker Shortlisted [69]
Who Fears Death Won [69]
2008 Parallax Award The Shadow Speaker Won [69]
2006 Zahrah The Windseeker Shortlisted [69]
Golden Duck Award 2008 Hal Clement Award The Shadow Speaker Nominated [69]
Kurd Laßwitz Award 2018 Best Foreign Novel The Book of Phoenix Won [22]
The Kitschies 2015 Red Tentacle Lagoon Nominated [69]


Award Year Category Work Result Ref.
Hugo Award 2019 Best Graphic Album Black Panther: Long Live The King Nominated [69]
2021 LaGuardia Won [64]
Nommo Award 2019 Best Graphic Novel Shuri Won [69]
Black Panther:Long Live The King Nominated [69]
Eisner Award 2021 Best Graphic Album - Reprint LaGuardia Won [64]

Short fiction, memoir and Novelette[edit]

Award Year Category Work Result Ref.
Locus Award 2011 Best Novelette The Book of Phoenix Nominated [69]
2022 The Black Pages Finalist [70]
2017 Best Short Story Africanfuturist 419 Nominated [69]
2019 Mother of Invention Finalist [69]
2020 Best nonfiction Broken Places and Outer Spaces:Finding Creativity in the Unexpected Nominated [69]
Best Short Story Binti: Sacred fire Won [69]
Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award 2005 Best Short Story The Magical Negro Shortlisted [69]
Ignotus Award 2019 Foreign Short Story Binti Won [69]
WSFA Small Press Award 2008 Best Short Story Spider the Artist Nominated [69]

Other Awards[edit]

  • 2005 – The Strange Horizons Reader's Choice Award for Stephen King's Super-Duper Magical Negroes[52]
  • 2007–2008 – Macmillan Writers' Prize for Africa for Long Juju Man[71]
  • 2008 – Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa for Zahrah the Windseeker[72]
  • 2012 – Black Excellence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Literature (Fiction) for Zahrah the Windseeker[73][74]
  • 2015 – African Literary Person of the Year from Brittle Paper[75]
  • 2016 – Children's Africana Book Award for Best Book for Young Readers for Chicken in the Kitchen[76]
  • Mathical Honors for Binti[77]



  • Long Juju Man (2009, Macmillan Africa)
  • Iridessa and the Secret of the Never Mine (2012, Disney Books)
  • Chicken in the Kitchen (2020, Lantana publishing)

Young adult



  • Black Panther: Long Live the King (2017, Marvel)
  • LaGuardia (2018, Dark Horse)
  • Shuri (2018, Marvel)
  • Wakanda Forever (2018, Marvel)
  • Antar: the Black Knight (2018, IDW/Mirage Films)
  • Shuri: Wakanda Forever (2020, Marvel)
  • After The Rain (2021, Abrams ComicArts – Megascope)

Selected filmography[edit]

  • Brave New Souls: Black Sci-Fi & Fantasy Writers of the 21st Century (2013) – Herself[80]


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External links[edit]