Ben Okri 2017 Authors' Awards Speech


Poet and novelist BEN OKRI is a Vice-President of the English Centre of International PEN, a member of the board of the Royal National Theatre, and was awarded an OBE in 2001. Born in Minna, northern Nigeria, he spent his early childhood in London, where he now lives, before returning to Nigeria with his family in 1966, at the age of 7. Much of his early fiction explores the political violence that he witnessed at first hand during the civil war in Nigeria. He left the country when a grant from the Nigerian government enabled him to read Comparative Literature at Essex University in England. He was poetry editor for West Africa magazine between 1983 and 1986, broadcasting regularly for the BBC World Service between 1983 and 1985 and was appointed Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College Cambridge in 1991 till 1993. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1987, and has been awarded honorary doctorates from the universities of Westminster (1997), Essex (2002) and by School of Oriental and African Studies (2010). He was made an honorary fellow of Mansfield College, Oxford University in 2014.

His first two novels, Flowers and Shadows (1980) and The Landscapes Within (1981), are both set in Nigeria and feature as central characters two young men struggling to make sense of the disintegration and chaos happening in both their family and country. In 1991 Okri was awarded the Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel The Famished Road (1991), the first in a trilogy of novels which tell the story of Azaro, a spirit child. Other fiction includes Astonishing the Gods (1995) and Dangerous Love (1996), which was awarded the Premio Palmi (Italy) in 2000, In Arcadia (2002) and Starbook (2007) His poetry includes An African Elegy (1992), and an epic poem, Mental Flight, (1999). Ben Okri is also the author of a play, In Exilus. His most recent books are A Time for New Dreams (2011), a collection of linked essays, a new collection of poetry, Wild (2012), and his novel The Age of Magic (2014).