UNL author on short list for top international literary award

Released on 09/15/2015, at 9:09 AM
Office of University Communications
University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Lincoln, Neb., September 15th, 2015 —
Chigozie Obioma (Craig Chandler/University Communications)
Chigozie Obioma (Craig Chandler/University Communications)

Chigozie Obioma, a Nigerian writer and member of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln creative writing faculty, is one of six authors vying for one of the most prestigious writing awards in the world.

His debut novel, "The Fishermen," was announced Tuesday among the short list of novels under consideration for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, awarded each year to the best English-language novel.

It is the second stage of competition for the award. A panel of five judges reviewed 156 novels to come up with a long list of 13 candidates, unveiled in July. The grand prize winner, which includes an award of £50,000 (about $77,000 U.S.), will be presented Oct. 13 at a black-tie dinner in London.

"The Man Booker Prize has now become fairly indisputable as one of the most coveted awards an English-language fiction writer can win," said Kwame Dawes, Chancellor's Professor of English, Glenna Luschei Editor of the “Prairie Schooner” literary journal and an African literature scholar who helped bring Obioma to UNL.

Marco Abel, chairman of the UNL English Department, said the recent recruitment of Obioma, as well as Cuban-American writer Jennine Capo Crucet, reflects the high quality and strong reputation of UNL's creative writing doctoral program. Capo Crucet's first novel, "Make Your Home Among Strangers," received a favorable review from the New York Times Sunday Book Review pages.  

"Being on the short list for the Man Booker gives Chigozie's name, as well as that of UNL, tremendous exposure," Abel said.

Obioma said two of his favorite novels were Booker Prize winners -- "The God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy in 1997 and "The English Patient" by Michael Ondaatje in 1992.  Other past winners include Salman Rushdie, Kazuo Ishiguro, Iris Murdoch, Kingsley Amis, V. S. Naipaul and Nadine Gordimer. He said he didn't dream that he might be included among the world's best authors while he was writing the book.

"This is very humbling," he said. "I was only hoping it would be published."

The book's success is a testament to tenacity, he said. "If you really want to do something, there's a chance it might succeed. You need to keep on even when it seems like it's not working. Just believe it can."

Set in Obioma's native Nigeria, "The Fishermen" is the story of four brothers who defy their father's wishes and skip school to spend their days fishing at a nearby river. While there, they encounter a madman who prophesies that the eldest will be killed by one of his brothers. Though their hobby doesn't last long, it comes with terrible consequences.

The book now has been published in 16 countries and translated into at least a dozen languages, Obioma said. It received enthusiastic reviews from the New York Times, National Public Radio and several others. Some critics have described the book as a Cain-and-Abel story. Others see it as a metaphor for the social turmoil in Nigeria. 

The idea for "The Fishermen" arose while Obioma attended college in Cyprus. The fifth of 12 children, he realized he had no friends outside his siblings.

"I didn't know how to live without them," he said. "After two years, I begged to come home.”"

His father refused to allow Obioma to leave college. During a phone call home, his father told him of the growing friendship between his two older brothers, born less than a year apart. Rivals as children, they had become best friends in their thirties. Fascinated by the change, Obioma began developing the idea for his book.

"'The Fishermen' is a beautiful novel, well conceived, complex and deeply affecting," Dawes said. "We in the English Department feel extremely fortunate to have been able to attract such talented writers as Capo Crucet and Obioma, who are quickly becoming household names in fiction here in the U.S. and around the world."

Writer: Leslie Reed, University Communications