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Caine Prize Fiction Friday: “America” by Chinelo Okparanta

Nigerian writer Chinelo Okparanta’s short story “America” has been shortlisted for the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing. Okparanta is up against fellow Nigerians Elnathan John, Abubakar Adam Ibrahim and Tope Folarin, as well as Pede Hollist from Sierra Leone, for the £10 000 prize.

“America” was first published in Granta, Issue 118, and the story also forms part of Okparanta’s forthcoming short story collection, Happiness, Like Water.

This is the last of our Caine Prize Fiction Fridays for this year as the winner will be announced on Monday 8 July. We recently posted the other four shortlisted stories: “Bayan Layi” by Elnathan John, “Miracle” by Tope Folarin, “Foreign Aid” by Pede Hollist and “The Whispering Trees” by Abubakar Adam Ibrahim.

Read Okparanta’s short story, “America”:

We drive through bushes. We pass the villages that rim our side of the Bonny River. There are hardly any trees in the area, and the shrubs are little more than stumps, thin and dusty, not verdant as they used to be. This, Mama has told me: that the vegetation around the Bonny River once thrived. That the trees grew tall, and from them sprang green leaves. And their flowers gave rise to fruit. Of course, this memory is hers, from a former reality, one too old to be my own.
The roads are sandy and brown, with open gutters, and with wrappers and cans and bottles strewn about. Collapsing cement shacks line the roadside in messy rows, like cartons that have long begun to decompose.
A short distance from us, something comes out of the river, a small boy or girl, maybe six or seven years old. Hands flail in the air and another child joins – typical children’s play. Except that it’s too early in the morning for that. Except that their skin, and even the cloth around their waists, gleams an almost solid black. That oily blackness of crude.

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Image courtesy Granta


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