Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

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Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
Yvonne Owuor.jpg
Born1968 (age 52–53)
Nairobi, Kenya
GenreLiterary fiction

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (born 1968) is a Kenyan writer. She won the 2003 Caine Prize for African Writing for her story "Weight of Whispers", which considers an aristocratic Rwandan refugee in Kenya.[1] The story was originally published in Kwani?, the Kenyan literary magazine set up by Binyavanga Wainaina after he won the Caine Prize the previous year. In 2004, she won the Woman of the year (Arts, Heritage category) for her contributions to the arts in Kenya. In September 2015, her critically acclaimed book Dust was not only shortlisted for the Folio Prize, but also won Kenya's pre-eminent literary prize, the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature.[2]


Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Owuor studied English at Kenyatta University, before taking an MA in TV/Video development at Reading University. She obtained an MPhil, Creative Writing from the University of Queensland, Australia. She has worked as a screenwriter and from 2003 to 2005 was the executive director of the Zanzibar International Film Festival.[3] Her short story "Weight of Whispers" was the 2003 winner of the Caine Prize. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications worldwide, including Kwani? and McSweeney’s, and her story "The Knife Grinder’s Tale" was made into a short film of the same title, released in 2007.[4][5]

In 2010, along with Binyavanga Wainaina, she participated in the Chinua Achebe Center's "Pilgrimages" project and travelled to Kinshasa, and intends to produce a book about her experiences.[6]

Her 2014 novel Dust portrays the violent history of Kenya in the second half of the 20th century. Reviewing Dust in The New York Times, Taiye Selasi wrote: "In this dazzling novel you will find the entirety of human experience — tearshed, bloodshed, lust, love — in staggering proportions."[7] Ron Charles of The Washington Post wrote: "Owuor demonstrates extraordinary talent and range in these pages. Her style is alternately impressionistic and harsh, incantatory and propulsive. One moment, she keeps us trapped within the bloodied walls of a torture cell; in the next, her poetic voice soars over sun-baked plains. She can clear the gloom with passages of Dickensian comedy or tender romance, but most of her novel takes places in 'haunted silences.' 'Dust' moves between the lamentation of a single family and the corruption of national politics, swirling around one young man’s death to create a vortex of grief that draws in generations of deceit and Kenya’s tumultuous modern history."[8]

In 2019, her second novel, "The Dragonfly Sea" was published.[9] The Dragonfly Sea is set on Pate Island, off the coast of Kenya, and about a girl named Ayaana living with her mother, Munira. When a sailor named Muhidin enters their lives, Ayaana finds something she has never had before: a father. But as Ayaana grows into adulthood, forces of nature and history begin to reshape her life and the island itself–from a taciturn visitor with a murky past to a sanctuary-seeking religious extremist, from dragonflies to a tsunami, from black-clad kidnappers to cultural emissaries from China. Ayaana ends up embarking on a dramatic ship's journey to the Far East, where she discovers friends and enemies; seduced by the charming but unreliable scion of a powerful Turkish business family; reclaims her devotion to the sea; and comes to find her own tenuous place amid a landscape of beauty and violence and surprising joy.[10]

Selected works[edit]

Weight of Whispers, Kwani Trust, 2003

Dust, Knopf, Granta 2014 Der Ort, an dem die Reise endet: (tr Simone Jakob) Dumont (2016) La Maison au bout des voyages, (tr,Françoise Pertat ) Actes Sud, 2017

The Dragonfly Sea, (Knopf, 2019) Das Meer der Libellen (Dumont, 2020)

Short stories (in anthologies)

Trial of Terremoto, (Caine Prize Anthology) 2004

The State of Tides, (Commissioned by Essex County Council, UK) 2004

Dressing the Dirge, (Little Black Book anthology) 2005

The Knife Grinders’ Tale, 2005

These Fragments, (All the good things around us; Daughter of Africa Anthology) 2016, 2018,

The Fire in Ten, (Hearth: A Global Conversation on Identity, Community, and Place) 2016

Essays, Articles, Key notes, Literary Reportage

Kin la Belle: In the Clear Light of Song and Silence: African Cities Reader II: Mobilities and Fixtures

Imagined Waters, Chimurenga Chronic, 2015

In Search of Poem-Maps of the Swahili Seas: Three Sea Poems by Haji Gora Haji, Eastern African Literary and Cultural Studies, 4:3-4, 164-178, DOI: 10.1080/23277408.2018.1478632

O-Swahili - language and liminality (2015) Matatu 46(1):141-152 ·DOI: 10.1163/9789004298071_009

Reading Our ruins; A Rough Sketch (2018). Matatu 50(1): 13-4, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/18757421-05001012

Distilling Existence (2019). Granta 146: The Politics of Feeling


  1. ^ Michelle Paulli, "Kenya celebrates Caine prize double", The Guardian, 15 July 2003.
  2. ^ "Owuor wins literature prize at book awards". Daily Nation. 28 September 2015. Retrieved 5 November 2015 – via In March 2019, she published "The Dragonfly Sea" which was released to international acclaim. This novel explores the complexities of the Indian ocean ('Swahili Seas'), from the perspective of a girl, Ayaana, from Pate Island, off the East coast of Africa.
  3. ^ "Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (Kenya)", Centre for Creative Arts, University of Kwazulu-Natal.
  4. ^ The Knife Grinder's Tale website.
  5. ^ "The Knife Grinder's Tale (2007)" at IMDb.
  6. ^ The Caine Prize for African Writing, 2003 winner: Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor. Archived 10 July 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Taiye Selasi, "The Unvanquished – ‘Dust,’ by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor", The New York Times, 28 February 2014.
  8. ^ Ron Charles, "Review: ‘Dust,’ by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor", The Washington Post, 4 February 2014.
  9. ^ Vanity Fair, "The Best Books of 2019, So Far"
  10. ^ Penguin Random House,"The Dragonfly Sea"

External links[edit]