Society & Culture

Ben Okri: First Black Writer to Win the Booker Prize

Agencies – Sudan Events

In 1991 Ben Okri became the first Black writer to win the Booker Prize and its youngest winner.
Here he explains how his novel, The Famished Road, was written on a magic tide of freedom
While living through my own childhood – listening to stories the elders told, having herbalists treat my glaucoma – I was aware that it would make a magnificent book. I began reading early and always had a sense of life as something that would be read.
This does not mean that The Famished Road, my third novel, which won the Booker Prize in 1991, was autobiographical, only that the strange realities of life seemed already to belong to the magical world of reading.
The novel was begun before I realised it. At the University of Essex, in 1981, I wrote a long short story set in London. It later grew into a novel.
A good friend said there was something unusual about the early passages set in Africa. This comment set me on the path to The Famished Road, a novel about a spirit child in Lagos around the time of independence.
This is why I believe in the power of indirection. Our authentic path may exist in things not yet discovered, waiting for us in what is already there.
In the years before working on the novel, I had been dissatisfied with the way I was writing.
I was applying the realistic narrative tradition to Africa, but the techniques used to describe western life were inadequate for depicting the multidimensional world of my childhood.
This led to a crisis. I needed to find a new way to convey the imaginative richness of Africa. The existing techniques simply would not do anymore. I needed to renew my hand.

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