Ben Okri

Ben Okri OBE FRSL (born 15 March 1959) is a Nigerian poet and novelist.[1] Okri is considered one of the foremost African authors in the post-modern and post-colonial traditions,[2][3] and has been compared favourably to authors such as Salman Rushdie and Gabriel García Márquez.[4]

Ben Okri
Ben Okri
Ben Okri
Born15 March 1959 (age 59)
Minna, Nigeria
GenreFiction, essays, poetry
Literary movementPostmodernism, Postcolonialism
Notable worksThe Famished Road, A Way of Being Free, Starbook, A Time for New Dreams
Notable awardsMan Booker Prize


Ben Okri is a member of the Urhobo people; his father was Urhobo, and his mother was half-Igbo.[1] He was born in Minna in west central Nigeria to Grace and Silver Okri in 1959.[5] His father, Silver, moved his family to London when Okri was less than two years old[3] so that Silver could study law.[6] Okri thus spent his earliest years in London and attended primary school in Peckham.[2] In 1968 Silver moved his family back to Nigeria where he practised law in Lagos, providing free or discounted services for those who could not afford it.[5] His exposure to the Nigerian civil war [7] and a culture in which his peers at the time claimed to have seen visions of spirits,[3] later provided inspiration for Okri's fiction.

At the age of 14, after being rejected for admission to a short university program in physics because of his youth and lack of qualifications, Okri experienced a revelation that poetry was his chosen calling.[8] He began writing articles on social and political issues, but these never found a publisher.[8] He then wrote short stories based on those articles, and some were published in women's journals and evening papers.[8] Okri claimed that his criticism of the government in some of this early work led to his name being placed on a death list, and necessitated his departure from the country.[3] In 1978, Okri moved back to England and went to study comparative literature at Essex University with a grant from the Nigerian government.[9][8] When funding for his scholarship fell through, however, Okri found himself homeless, sometimes living in parks and sometimes 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."[8]

Okri's success as a writer began when he published his first novel Flowers and Shadows, at the age of 21.[1] He then served West Africa magazine as poetry editor from 1983 to 1986, and was a regular contributor to the BBC World Service between 1983 and 1985, continuing to publish throughout this period.[1]

For three years from 1988, he lived in a Notting Hill flat (rented from publisher friend Margaret Busby): "I brought the first draft of The Famished Road with me and that flat was where I began rewriting it.... Something about my writing changed round about that time. I acquired a kind of tranquillity. I had been striving for something in my tone of voice as a writer — 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."[9]

His reputation as an author was secured when his novel The Famished Road won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1991,[1][10] making him the youngest ever winner of the prize.[11]

Literary career

Quote by Ben Okri on the Memorial Gates at the Hyde Park Corner end of Constitution Hill in London, UK
Quote from Ben Okri's Mental Fight on the Memorial Gates, London

Since he published his first novel, Flowers and Shadows (1980), Okri has risen to an international acclaim, and he often is described as one of Africa's leading writers.[2][3] 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.[1]

Okri's work is particularly difficult to categorise. Although it has been widely categorised as post-modern,[12] some scholars have noted that the seeming realism with which he depicts the spirit-world challenges this categorisation. 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."[12] Alternative characterisations of Okri's work suggest an allegiance to Yoruba folklore,[13] New Ageism,[12][14] spiritual realism,[14] magical realism,[15] visionary materialism,[15] and existentialism.[16]

Against these analyses, Okri has always rejected the categorisation of his work as magical realism, claiming that this categorisation is the result of laziness on the part of critics and likening this categorisation to the observation that "a horse ... has four legs and a tail. That doesn't describe it."[3] He has instead described his fiction as obeying a kind of "dream logic,"[7] and stated that his fiction often is preoccupied with the "philosophical conundrum ... what is reality?"[8] 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."[7]

He notes the effect of personal choices, "Beware of the stories you read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world."[17]

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,[1] 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.[1][18]

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.[1] 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 prior.[19]


Okri has described his work as influenced as much by the philosophical texts in his father's book shelves, as it was by literature,[8] and Okri cites the influence of both Francis Bacon and Michel de Montaigne on his A Time for New Dreams.[20] His literary influences include Aesop's Fables, Arabian Nights, Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream,[7] and Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner".[8] Okri's 1999 epic poem, Mental Fight, also is named after a quotation from the poet William Blake's "And did those feet ...",[21] and critics have noted the close relationship between Blake and Okri's poetry.[15]

Okri also was 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."[7] His first-hand experiences of civil war in Nigeria are said to have inspired many of his works.[7]

Awards and honours



  • Flowers and Shadows (Harlow: Longman, 1980)
  • The Landscapes Within (Harlow: Longman, 1981)
  • The Famished Road (London: Jonathan Cape, 1991)
  • Songs of Enchantment (London: Jonathan Cape, 1993)
  • Astonishing the Gods (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1995)
  • Dangerous Love (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson,1996)
  • Infinite Riches (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998)
  • In Arcadia (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2002)
  • Starbook (London: Rider Books, 2007)
  • The Age of Magic (London: Head of Zeus, 2014)
  • The Freedom Artist (London: Head of Zeus, 2019)

Poetry, essays and short story collections

  • Incidents at the Shrine (short stories; London: Heinemann, 1986)
  • Stars of the New Curfew (short stories; London: Secker & Warburg, 1988)
  • An African Elegy (poetry; London: Jonathan Cape, 1992)
  • Birds of Heaven (essays; London: Phoenix House, 1996)
  • A Way of Being Free (essays; London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson: 1997; London: Phoenix House, 1997)
  • Mental Fight (poetry: London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1999; London: Phoenix House, 1999)
  • Tales of Freedom (short stories; London: Rider & Co., 2009)
  • A Time for New Dreams (essays; London: Rider & Co., 2011)
  • Wild (poetry; London: Rider & Co., 2012)
  • The Mystery Feast: Thoughts on Storytelling (West Hoathly: Clairview Books, Ltd., 2015)
  • The Magic Lamp: Dreams of Our Age, with paintings by Rosemary Clunie (Apollo/Head of Zeus, 2017)
  • Rise Like Lions: Poetry for the many (as editor; London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2018)



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Ben Okri," British Council, Writers Directory.
  2. ^ a b c "Ben Okri," Editors, The Guardian, 22 July 2008.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Stefaan Anrys, "Interview with Booker Prize laureate Ben Okri," Mondiaal Nieuws, 26 August 2009.
  4. ^ Robert Dorsman, "Ben Okri Archived 16 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine," Poetry International Web, 2000.
  5. ^ a b Maya Jaggi, "Free spirit," The Guardian, 10 August 2007.
  6. ^ Juliet Rix, "Ben Okri: My family values," The Guardian, 25 June 2010.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Anita Sethi, "Ben Okri: novelist as dream weaver", TheNational, 1 September 2011.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h "Interview: Ben Okri – Booker prize-winning novelist and poet" Archived 16 January 2013 at the Wayback Machine,, 5 March 2010.
  9. ^ a b Ben Okri, "Time and place", The Sunday Times, 3 August 2014.
  10. ^ "Ben Okri: 'The Famished Road was written to give myself reasons to live'", The Guardian, 15 March 2016.
  11. ^ "Ben Okri", The Cultural Frontline, BBC World Service, 1 May 2016.
  12. ^ a b c Douglas McCabe. "'Higher Realities': New Age Spirituality in Ben Okri's The Famished Road." Research in African Literatures, vol. 36, no. 4 (2005), 1–21.
  13. ^ Ato Quayson, Transformations in Nigerian Writing (Oxford: James Currey, 1997).
  14. ^ a b Anthony K. Appiah, "Spiritual Realism." Review of The Famished Road, by Ben Okri. The Nation, 3–10 August 1992, 146–148.
  15. ^ a b c Matthew J. A. Green, "Dreams of Freedom: Magical Realism and Visionary Materialism in Okri and Blake", Romanticism, vol. 15, no. 1 (2009), 18–32.
  16. ^ Ben Obumselu, "Ben Okri's The Famished Road: A Re-Evaluation." Tydskrif vir Letterkunde, vol. 48, no. 1 (2011), 26–38.
  17. ^ "A Thought for Today ... Ben Okri",, 15 March 2017.
  18. ^ Ben Okri, "A Time for New Dreams" Archived 19 January 2012 at the Wayback Machine, an interview with Claire Armitstead, RSA. London, 4 April 2011.
  19. ^ Katie Allen, "Okri made Caine Prize vice-president", The Bookseller, 26 April 2012.
  20. ^ Saskia Vogel, "Interview: Ben Okri", Granta Magazine, 7 April 2011.
  21. ^ Ben Okri, Mental Fight: An Anti-Spell for the 21st Century (London: Phoenix House, 1999), 1.
  22. ^ "Honorary Degree in Utopia for Ben Okri - Antwerp, Belgium 2010", Youtube, 10 March 2015.
  23. ^ Jonathan Beckman, "Twitching Fairy Penguin", Literary Review, December 2014.
  24. ^ "Bad Sex in Fiction: Ben Okri scoops 2014 prize", BBC News, 3 December 2014.
  25. ^ "N – The Madness of Reason", Blinkerfilm, 9 March 2015.

External links

1991 in literature

This article presents lists of the literary events and publications in 1991.

Cultural Exchanges festival

The Cultural Exchanges festival is an annual cultural festival held at De Montfort University, Leicester, England. The festival started in the year 2000 and is held over 5 days attracting up to 4,000 people each year.

Many celebrated guests from areas of the arts, media, literature, politics and film have appeared at the festival including Alastair Campbell, Andrew Motion, Alan Yentob, Alan Moore, Sue Townsend, Alan Sillitoe, Ken Loach, Matthew Bourne, Ben Okri, Louis De Bernieres, Billy Bragg, Andrew Davies, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Grayson Perry, Germaine Greer, Trevor Nelson and Lemn Sissay. The main programme is often complemented by workshops, day conferences and performance arts events. The festival director, Tony Graves, recently received the Leicestershire First Award for Achievement in Arts and Music.Cultural Exchanges Festival 2014 will take place 17-21 February 2014.

Dangerous Love

Dangerous Love may refer to:

"Dangerous Love" (song), a 2014 song by Fuse ODG featuring Sean Paul

Dangerous Love (novel), 1996 novel by Ben Okri

Dangerous Love (1920 film), silent Western

Dangerous Love (1988 film), starring Elliott Gould

"Dangerous Love", Korean song by T-ara from Bunny Style!

"Dangerous Love", Japanese rap song by Little from Kick the Can Crew

"Dangerous Love", song by Racer X from Extreme Volume Live

"Dangerous Love", TV episode of Sweet Valley High

"A Dangerous Love", TV episode of Saints & Sinners

Dangerous Love (novel)

Dangerous Love is a 1996 novel by Ben Okri set in Lagos of the 1970s. The novel is a reworking of an earlier book, The Landscapes Within. The book is more conventional and realist than Okri's previous works. The subject concerns love, corruption and memories of the Biafran War in Nigeria.

Donna McKevitt

Donna McKevitt (born 1970) is an English composer based in London. She studied viola with Gustav Clarkson and voice with Linda Hirst and gained a BA Hons in music at Kingston Polytechnic.

She was a member of Miranda Sex Garden between 1991 and 1994 recording Iris, Suspiria and Fairytales of Slavery with them for Mute Records and touring Japan, The States and Europe.She began a collaboration with Greg Roberts of Dreadzone going on to write, sing and play on their albums Second Light and Biological Radio with Virgin Records.While touring and recording full-time Donna set some of Maya Angelou's poems for voice, trumpet and double bass and in 1993, after contributing to the soundtrack of Derek Jarman's last film Blue, she began work on Translucence. These settings of Jarman's poems were recorded for Warner Classics in 1997 by Andrew Keener and featured the voices of Michael Chance and Melanie Pappenheim. "A work of haunting and unpretentious beauty", 'Translucence' has been performed by the original ensemble at Columbia University (broadcast live on WNYC Radio), at The City of London Festival and at Tate Modern. It has also been performed at The Edinburgh Festival and in Boston, Tokyo, Sydney and Zurich by other ensembles.

In 2000 Donna moved to Sarajevo where she continued writing, producing settings of poetry by Paul Celan, e.e cummings, Ben Okri and later, in collaboration with film maker Chris Briggs, work by Pablo Neruda. 'Love Songs for Michael', the settings of three Michaelangelo sonnets for Michael Chance and lutist Nigel North, were commissioned and performed at The Radovljica Festival in Slovenia in 2000.

Donna is a member of the band The Mabuses and composer for the photographer Emma Summerton contributing film scores and soundtracks for the fashion house Bodyamr, London and Paris Fashion Week, Jaeger and Italian Vogue.2010 saw the release of This is What I Wanted to Give You' a collaboration with The Cesarians' drummer and poet Jan Noble and the beginning of a new song cycle from McKevitt. A live preview of the forthcoming debut album from 'McKevitt & Noble', showcased at the East End Film Festival in May 2011, was McKevitt's first live performance in nearly 10 years.

A one-hour retrospective of her work (broadcast on WNYC in December 2011) included a live studio session with trumpeter Lew Soloff and double bassist Francois Mouton in which she presented her settings of Maya Angelou's poetry as well as recordings of her work with Miranda Sex Garden, songs from Translucence and new tracks from McKevitt & Noble.

Into the Widening World

Into the Widening World is a collection of 26 short fictional coming-of-age stories. It was written by many authors including: Nadine Gordimer, Ben Okri, Bharati Mukherjee, Alice Munro and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

List of Black British writers

This is a list of Black British writers, born in or associated with the UK, who already have a Wikipedia page.

List of Nigerian writers

This is a list of Nigerian writers.

List of Today programme guest editors

The Today programme on BBC Radio 4 in the UK has an annual week of guest editors over the Christmas and New Year period. This is the full list of the individuals involved.2003 guest editors:

Monica Ali,

Norman Tebbit

Thom Yorke

Gillian Reynolds

Stephen Hawking2004 guest editors:


Richard Branson

Anthony Minghella

Sarah Ferguson, The Duchess of York

Onora O'Neill, Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve2005 guest editors:

David Blunkett MP

Anna Ford,

Queen Noor of Jordan,

Steve Chandra Savale, - member of the band Asian Dub Foundation

Sir John Bond, Chairman of HSBC2006 guest editors:

Yoko Ono

Sir Clive Woodward

Zac Goldsmith

Rowan Williams

Allan Leighton2007 Guest Editors

Stella Rimington

Damon Albarn

Peter Hennessy

Sir Martin Evans

Richard Lewis, Samantha Gainard and Paul Amphlett of Dyfed-Powys Police as nominated by Today Programme Listeners.2008 Guest Editors

Zadie Smith

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor

Jarvis Cocker

Sir Win Bischoff

Zaha Hadid2009 Guest Editors

Martin Rees

David Hockney

Tony Adams

PD James

Robert Wyatt

Shirley Williams2010 Guest Editors

Diana Athill

Colin Firth

Sam Taylor Wood

Richard Ingrams

Dame Clara Furse2011 Guest Editors

Sebastian Coe

Mo Ibrahim

Tracey Emin

Sir Victor Blank

Baroness Boothroyd

Stewart Lee2012 Guest Editors

Mass Observation

Sir Paul Nurse

Melinda Gates

Dame Ann Leslie

Benjamin Zephaniah

Al Murray2013 Guest Editors

Sir Tim Berners Lee

Michael Palin

Eliza Manningham Buller

Antony Jenkins

PJ Harvey2014 Guest Editors

John Bercow

Tracey Thorn

Mervyn King, Baron King of Lothbury

Lenny Henry

Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, Baroness Butler-Sloss2015 Guest Editors

Michael Sheen

Sir Bradley Wiggins

Miriam González Durántez

David Adjaye

Baroness Campbell

Lord Browne2016 Guest Editors

Nicola Adams

Carey Mulligan

Helena Morrissey

Sally Davies2017 Guest Editors

Tamara Rojo

Prince Harry

Ben Okri

Baroness Trumpington

AI Robot2018 Guest Editors

David Dimbleby

Kamila Shamsie

Martha Lane Fox

Angelina Jolie

Chidera Eggerue

Andrew Roberts

Outer Space

Memorial Gates, London

The Memorial Gates are a war memorial located at the Hyde Park Corner end of Constitution Hill in London. Also known as the Commonwealth Memorial Gates, they commemorate the armed forces of the British Empire from five regions of the Indian subcontinent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka), as well as Africa and the Caribbean, who served for Britain in the First and Second World Wars.

The memorial was inaugurated in 2002 by Queen Elizabeth II.

N - The Madness of Reason

N – The Madness of Reason is a 201 Belgian documentary film written (in collaboration with Ben Okri) and directed by Peter Krüger.

Paint the Change

Paint the Change is a global street art project that uses public art and community dialogue to discuss social justice issues. The project's latest mural is a monumental piece in Shoreditch, East London, featuring words by Ben Okri and art by Ben Eine to commemorate the victims and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire in London. Paint the Change is also the umbrella project for the global street art and human rights project Education Is Not A Crime.

Maziar Bahari, the Iranian-Canadian journalist and filmmaker, started Paint the Change in 2015 to raise awareness of the denial of higher education to the Baha'i religious minority in Iran. Today the project works on issues from social justice in the United Kingdom, to anti-Semitism and Islamophobia across Europe, as well as environmental degradation and other global crises.

Pin Drop Studio

Pin Drop Studio is an arts and entertainment studio founded in 2012 by Simon Oldfield and Elizabeth Day, with a particular focus on short fiction.Pin Drop Studio publishes short fiction, stages an annual short story award for new writing in association with the Royal Academy of Arts, has a podcast series and hosts live events in major cities around the globe with authors, actors, artists, cultural commentators and original thinkers.Pin Drop Productions commissions original fiction from new and established writers.


Starbook, subtitled "A Magical Tale of Love and Regeneration", is a 2007 novel by Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri.

The Famished Road

The Famished Road is a novel written by Nigerian author Ben Okri. Published in London in 1991 by Jonathan Cape, the story of the novel follows Azaro, an abiku or spirit child, living in an unnamed, most likely Nigerian, city. The novel employs a unique narrative style incorporating the spirit world with the "real" world in what some have classified as magical realism. Others have labeled it African Traditional Religion realism. Still others choose to simply call the novel fantasy literature. The book exploits the belief in the coexistence of the spiritual and material worlds that is a defining aspect of traditional African life.

The Famished Road was awarded the Man Booker Prize for Fiction for 1991.

The Mays

The Mays Literary Anthology (or just The Mays) is an anthology of new writing by students from the University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge. In 1992, when Peter Ho Davies, Adrian Woolfson, and Ron Dimant came up with the original concept for the Mays, the publication was split into two separate anthologies; one devoted to prose and the other to poetry. In 2003 the Mays became a single publication.Each year, the Mays receives hundreds of submissions from students at Oxford and Cambridge. In 2006 the Mays received a record 1,100 entries. The Editorial Committee (composed of students from both universities) review the submissions during Lent Term.

The Mays is broader in scope than most university literary projects: it is sold in bookstores and by delivery nationwide; it is distributed to every major literary agent; and each year a guest editor — usually a prominent author, poet, or artist — writes an introduction to the anthology. Previous guest editors include: Margaret Drabble and Jon Stallworthy (1992), Michael Dibdin and Seamus Heaney (1993), Stephen Fry (1994), Ted Hughes (1995), Penelope Fitzgerald (1996), Christopher Reid and Jill Paton Walsh (1997), Sebastian Faulks and J.H. Prynne (1998), Penelope Lively and John Kinsella (1999), Paul Muldoon and Lawrence Norfolk (2000), Zadie Smith and Michael Donaghy (2001), Andrew Motion and Nick Cave (2002), Ali Smith (2003), Philip Pullman (2004), Robert Macfarlane (2005), Don Paterson and Jeanette Winterson (2006), Colm Toibin (2007), Ian Patterson (2008), Patti Smith (2009), Amit Chaudhuri, Tom Raworth (2010),, Jarvis Cocker (2011), John Darnielle, Tao Lin, Toby Litt (2012), Michael Frayn, David Harsent, Tom Phillips (2013), John Fuller, Paul Farley, Ben Okri, Prajwal Parajuly, Emma Chichester Clark and Alexander Gilkes (2014), Roger Mcgough and Rupi Kaur (2016).The Mays is often noted for launching the career of novelist Zadie Smith. Her work appears in two of the short story editions (1996 and 1997). Literary agencies first took notice of Smith after seeing her story "Mrs. Begum’s Son and the Private Tutor" in the 1997 collection. Smith guest edited the Mays in 2001. Her quip "maybe in a few years this lot will have me out of a job" has become a catch phrase for the publication.

The Mays is associated with Varsity Publications Ltd, which publishes Varsity. The cost of publication is funded in part by donations from various Oxford and Cambridge colleges.

Viswa Malayala Mahotsavam 2012

Viswa Malayala Mahotsavam 2012 (വിശ്വമലയാള മഹോത്സവം 2012) (Great World Malayalam Festival 2012) is an event organised jointly by Kerala Sahitya Akademi and the Department of Cultural Affairs, Government of Kerala, at Thiruvananthapuram during 30, 31 October, 1 November 2012. The event was inaugurated by Pranab Mukherjee, President of India, on 30 October 2012 in a function held in the Senate Hall of Kerala University.There were literary seminars and poetry sessions as part of the three-day festival. There were also dialogues with writers from Kerala and outside and also honouring of the great men of Malayalam literature. A book fair and cultural performances were other attractions of the Festival. A notable special guest of the event was the Booker winning Nigerian novelist Ben Okri.The event was carefully orchestrated by the organisers to boost Kerala's case for granting the classical language status to Malayalam language.

World Book Club

World Book Club is a radio programme on the BBC World Service. Each edition of the programme, which is broadcast on the first Saturday of the month with repeats into the following Monday, features a famous author discussing one of his or her books, often the most well-known one, with the public. Since the programme began in 2002 it has been presented by Harriett Gilbert .

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