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Ben Okri


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Nigeria

Ben Okri (OBE) Order Of the British Empire is a Nigerian Poet and Novelist who is considered as one of the foremost African authors in the post-modern and post-colonial traditions.

Welcome to Logbaby’s Biography of Ben Okri.

 


SUMMARY

Name: Ben Okri

Pen or Nickname: Ben Okri

Date of Birth: March 15th, 1959

Relationship Status: Married

Occupation: Author

GENRE: Fiction, Essay, Poetry


INTRODUCTION

Ben Okri is a Nigerian Poet and Novelist, Famous for the 1991 novel ‘The Famished Road’ which won the Booker Prize for Fiction making him the world's youngest ever winner of the prize.

EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION

He was born on the 15th of May 1959 in Minna the capital of Niger to Grace and Silver Okri. His father is an Urhobo man while his mother is half Igbo, both hailing from Delta state.

His father moved to England to study law and Ben and his mother joined him a year later when he was just 1 year and 6 months old and so he spent his early life in London and attended Primary school at Peckham in South-East London.

In 1968 Silver Okri moved his family back to Nigeria where he practised law in Lagos, providing free and discounted services for those who could not afford it. In Nigeria Ben attended Urhobo College in Warri, Delta state.

WRITING BEGINS

When they returned back to Nigeria, his father brought back a collection of Shakespare's books which he was only allowed to dust but not read, The restricton from reading these books made him want to know the content of the books and so while dusting he would stealthily glance through the books and this created in him a penchant for Literature.

His exposure to the Nigerian civil war and a culture in which his peers saw visions of spirits provided inspiration for Okri's work.

At the age of 14, after being rejected for admission to a university program in physics because of his age, he began writing articles on social and political issues, but these never found a publisher, he then wrote short stories based on those articles, and some were published in women's journals and evening papers.

He said that his criticism of the government in some of this early work led to his name being placed on a death list, and so necessitated his departure from the country.

In 1978, Okri moved back to England and went to study comparative literature at Essex University with a grant from the Nigerian government. But when funding for his scholarship fell through, Okri became homeless, sometimes living in parks and with friends.

He describes this period as "very, very important" to his work: "I wrote and wrote in that period... If anything [the desire to write] actually intensified".

Okri's success as a writer began when he published his first novel Flowers and Shadows, at age 21.

From 1983 to 1986 He served West Africa magazine as poetry editor and was a regular contributor to the BBC World Service between 1983 and 1985, continuing to publish throughout this period.

For three years from 1988, he lived in flat in Notting Hill where he says Something about his writing changed. He says he acquired a kind of tranquility which he had been striving for in his tone as a writter. He said ”it was there that it finally came together.... That flat is also where I wrote the short stories that became Stars of the New Curfew” and re wrote the draft of ’The famished roads’.

Talking about his experiences when he wrote the Famished Road, he says "I was born left-handed, but I was made to use my other hand When I was writing Famished Road, which was very long, I got repetitive stress syndrome. My right wrist collapsed, so I started using my left hand. The prose I wrote with my left hand came out denser, so later on I had to change it. I believe in leavening. You can't have words sticking out too much, like promontories. They disturb the density. You have to flatten them, or raise the surrounding terrain.'

HIS CAREER

Since he published his first novel, Flowers and Shadows (1980), Okri has risen to an international acclaim, and he is often described as one of Africa's leading writers.

His best known work, The Famished Road, which was awarded the 1991 Booker Prize, along with Songs of Enchantment and Infinite Riches make up a trilogy that follows the life of Azaro, a spirit-child narrator, through the social and political turmoil of an African nation reminiscent of Okri's remembrance of war-torn Nigeria.

 

Okri's work is particularly difficult to categorize. Although it has been widely categorized as post-modern, some scholars have noted that the seeming realism with which he depicts the spirit-world challenges this categorization. "If Okri does attribute reality to a spiritual world, it is claimed, then his "allegiances are not postmodern [because] he still believes that there is something ahistorical or transcendental, conferring legitimacy on some, and not other truth-claims." Alternative characterizations of Okri's work suggest an allegiance to Yoruba folklore, New ageism, spiritual realism, magical realism, visionary materialism, and existentialism.

Against these analyses, Okri has always rejected the categorisation of his work as magical realism, claiming that this categorization is the result of laziness on the part of critics and likening this categorization to the observation that "a horse ... has four legs and a tail. That doesn't describe it." He has instead described his fiction as obeying a kind of "dream logic," and stated that his fiction is often preoccupied with the "philosophical conundrum ... what is reality?" insisting that:

"I grew up in a tradition where there are simply more dimensions to reality: legends and myths and ancestors and spirits and death ... Which brings the question: what is reality? Everyone's reality is different. For different perceptions of reality we need a different language. We like to think that the world is rational and precise and exactly how we see it, but something erupts in our reality which makes us sense that there's more to the fabric of life. I'm fascinated by the mysterious element that runs through our lives. Everyone is looking out of the world through their emotion and history. Nobody has an absolute reality."

Okri's short fiction has been described as more realistic and less fantastic than his novels, but these stories also depict Africans in communion with spirits, while his poetry and nonfiction have a more overt political tone, focusing on the potential of Africa and the world to overcome the problems of modernity.

Okri was made an honorary Vice-President of the English Centre for the International PEN and a member of the board of the Royal National Theatre.  On 26 April 2012 Okri was appointed the new vice-president of the Caine Prize for African Writing, having been on the advisory committee and associated with the prize since it was established 13 years before.

Okri has described his work as influenced as much by the philosophical texts in his father's book shelves as it was by literature, and Okri cites the influence of both Francis Bacon and Michel de Montaigne on his A Time for New Dreams. His literary influences include Aesop's Fables, Arabian Nights, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner". Okri's 1999 epic poem, Mental Fight, is also named for a quote from the poet Coleridge and critics have noted the close relationship between author William Blake and Okri's poetry.

Okri was also influenced by the oral tradition of his people and particularly his mother's storytelling: "If my mother wanted to make a point, she wouldn't correct me, she'd tell me a story".

HONOURS AND AWARDS

Awards

Year Source Book/Article
1987  Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa Region, Best Book)  Incidents at the Shrine
1987  Aga Khan Prize for Fiction The Dream Vendor's August
1991 Booker Prize The Famished Road
1993 Chianti Ruffino-Antico Fattore International Literary Prize –  The Famished Road
1994 Premio Grinzane Cavour (Italy) The Famished Road
1995 Crystal Award (World Economic Forum)  
2000  Premio Palmi (Italy) Dangerous Love
2008  International Literary Award Novi Sad (International Novi Sad Literature Festival, Serbia).  
2014 Bad Sex in Fiction Award ("Britain's Most Dreaded Literary Prize"), Literary Review  

 

Honours

Year Honour Source
1991 to 1993 Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts Trinity College, Cambridge
1997 Honorary Doctorate of Literature University of Westminster
2001 Order of the British Empire (OBE) British Government
2002 Honorary Doctorate of Literature University of Essex
2004 Honorary Doctor of Literature University of Exeter
2010 Honorary Doctorate School of Oriental and African Studies
2010 Honorary Doctorate of Arts University of Bedfordshire
2014 Honorary Fellow Mansfield College, Oxford

 

PERSONAL LIFE

He is married to Victoria inyama Okri with whom he has 3 children.

His mother died when he was in his 30’s.

SOME OF HIS BOOKS

Novels

The Famished Road  The Landscapes Within 
Flowers and Shadows  Songs of Enchantment 
Astonishing the Gods Dangerous Love 
 Infinite Riches  In Arcadia
Starbook  The Age of Magic 

 

Poetry, essays and short story collections

Incidents at the Shrine  Stars of the New Curfew  An African Elegy 
Birds of Heaven  A Way of Being Free  Mental Fight 
Tales of Freedom  A Time for New Dreams Wild 

 

Film

The Madness of Reason

 

Article Credit: Kenechukwu Edeh

Updated 12 Months ago
 

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