Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor

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Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor
Yvonne Owuor.jpg
Born1968 (age 54–55)
Nairobi, Kenya
GenreLiterary fiction
Notable awardsCaine Prize for African Writing (2003)

Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (born 1968) is a Kenyan writer who is the author of novels, short stories and essays. She won the 2003 Caine Prize for African Writing for her story "Weight of Whispers".

Education and professional life[edit]

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 in Creative Writing from the University of Queensland, Australia.

Owuor has worked as a screenwriter and from 2003 to 2005 was the executive director of the Zanzibar International Film Festival.[1] 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.[2][3] In 2010, along with Binyavanga Wainaina, Owuor participated in the Chinua Achebe Center's "Pilgrimages" project and travelled to Kinshasa, and intends to produce a book about her experiences.[4] She is a contributor to the 2019 anthology New Daughters of Africa, edited by Margaret Busby.[5]



Owuor's 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."[6] 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."[7]

The Dragonfly Sea[edit]

In 2019, her second novel, The Dragonfly Sea was published.[8] 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.[9]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Owuor won the 2003 Caine Prize for African Writing for her story "Weight of Whispers", which considers an aristocratic Rwandan refugee in Kenya.[10] 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 shortlisted for the Folio Prize, and won Kenya's pre-eminent literary prize, the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature.[11]

Selected works[edit]


  • Weight of Whispers (Kwani Trust, 2003)[12]
  • Dust (Knopf, Granta, 2014)[6]
  • Der Ort, an dem die Reise endet (tr. Simone Jakob) (Dumont, 2016)[13]
  • La Maison au bout des voyages (tr. Françoise Pertat ) (Actes Sud, 2017)[14]
  • The Dragonfly Sea (Knopf, 2019)[15]
  • Das Meer der Libellen (Dumont, 2020)[16]

Short stories (in anthologies)[edit]

  • "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; New Daughters of Africa anthology), 2016, 2019
  • "The Fire in Ten" (Hearth: A Global Conversation on Identity, Community, and Place), 2016

Essays, articles, keynotes, literary reportage[edit]

  • "Kin la Belle: In the Clear Light of Song and Silence", in 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
  • "The Spiritual Voice of The Forest" (2021), National Geographic, 240(6):98–105


  1. ^ "Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor (Kenya)", Centre for Creative Arts, University of Kwazulu-Natal.
  2. ^ The Knife Grinder's Tale website.
  3. ^ "The Knife Grinder's Tale (2007)" at IMDb.
  4. ^ "2003 winner: Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor", The Caine Prize for African Writing. Archived 10 July 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ Ruiz, David (5 August 2019). "New Daughters of Africa at Edinburgh International Book Festival". Black History Month. Retrieved 7 November 2021.
  6. ^ a b Selasi, Taiye (28 February 2014). "The Unvanquished". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 27 May 2022.
  7. ^ Charles, Ron (4 February 2014). "Review: 'Dust,' by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor". The Washington Post.
  8. ^ "The Best Books of 2019, So Far", Vanity Fair, 8 July 2019.
  9. ^ "The Dragonfly Sea", Penguin Random House.
  10. ^ Paulli, Michelle (15 July 2003). "Kenya celebrates Caine prize double". The Guardian.
  11. ^ "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.
  12. ^ "Weight of Whispers". Goodreads. Retrieved 27 May 2022.
  13. ^ Owuor, Yvonne Adhiambo (21 March 2017). Der Ort, an dem die Reise endet: Roman (in German). Dumont. ISBN 978-3-8321-6424-9.
  14. ^ Owuor, Yvonne Adhiambo (2017). La maison au bout des voyages (in French). Actes sud. ISBN 978-2-330-07302-2.
  15. ^ Owuor, Yvonne Adhiambo (25 February 2020). The Dragonfly Sea. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 978-1-101-97362-2.
  16. ^ Owuor, Yvonne Adhiambo (11 October 2021). Das Meer der Libellen: Roman (in German). DuMont Buchverlag GmbH. ISBN 978-3-8321-6607-6.

External links[edit]