Obioma’s new novel makes Booker Prize shortlist

calendar icon September 9, 2019 - 11:41am

University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Chigozie Obioma has become one of only a handful of authors to have appeared on the Booker Prize shortlist more than once, and he’s done it with back-to-back novels.

Obioma’s debut novel, “The Fishermen,” made the shortlist in 2015. He learned Sept. 3 that his second novel, “An Orchestra of Minorities,” had again been shortlisted for the Booker Prize, one of literature’s top international awards.

“I’m delighted at this great honor,” Obioma, assistant professor in the Creative Writing Program, said. “It was, obviously, very unexpected. One would be crazy to imagine they’ll be nominated for any literary prize at all given the competition, much less the Booker, so this truly came as a shock.”

This is the second stage of the competition for the award, which recognizes outstanding fiction in the English-speaking world. A jury of five reviewed 151 books submitted for consideration. The judges’ longlist was announced in July and the winner will be announced at an Oct. 14 ceremony in London.

“An Orchestra of Minorities,” was published by Little, Brown in January. It quickly earned high marks in the New York Times, the Guardian and the Atlantic, among many others, and now joins works by Salman Rushdie, Lucy Ellmann, Margaret Atwood, Bernadine Evaristo, and Elif Shafak in the 2019 Booker competition.

Like “The Fishermen,” the new novel is set in Nigeria, where Obioma grew up. “An Orchestra of Minorities” is narrated by a chi, or guardian spirit, who has lived hundreds of years, and follows the story of Chinoso, a young poultry farmer. One night, Chinoso witnesses a woman, Ndali, attempting to jump from a highway bridge. Chinoso intervenes, and bonded by this night on the bridge, they fall in love.

Spanning continents, traversing the earth and cosmic spaces, the novel is a contemporary twist of Homer’s “Odyssey.” It is written in the mythic style of the Igbo literary tradition and weaves a heart-wrenching epic about destiny and determination.

Obioma joined the faculty at Nebraska in 2015.

“I’m grateful for UNL for giving me the home to breed these works, and for the generosity of the English department, my colleagues, and the administrative body,” he said.

Timothy Schaffert, director of Creative Writing and Susan J. Rosowski Associate Professor of English, was thrilled for Obioma and lauded his work with students.

“This level of recognition, so early in his career, is every young writer’s dream, and it really positions him for a kind of international renown known only by the most esteemed authors,” Schaffert said. “It’s such a great opportunity for our students who work with him, to get his insights into writing, and into professional development.”

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