Lesley Nneka

Lesley Nneka Arimah
Fiction Writer
Minneapolis, MN
2019 USA Fellow

This award was generously supported by the Ford Foundation.

Lesley Nneka Arimah was born in the U.K. and grew up in Nigeria and wherever else her father was stationed for work. Arimah has been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle John Leonard Prize, a National Magazine Award, and won the African Commonwealth Short Story Prize and an O. Henry Award. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s, GRANTA, and has received support from The Elizabeth George Foundation and MacDowell, among others. She was selected for the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 and her debut collection What It Means When a Man Falls From the Sky won the 2017 Kirkus Prize and the 2017 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award. She lives in Minneapolis and is working on a novel about you.

Portrait photo by Emily Baxter.


Light, 2015

“When Enebeli Okwara sent his girl out in the world, he did not know what the world did to daughters. He did not know how quickly it would wick the dew off her, how she would be returned to him hollowed out, relieved of her better parts. Before this, they are living in Port Harcourt in a bungalow in the old Ogbonda Layout. Her mother is in America reading for a Masters in Business Administration. She has been there for almost three years in which her eleven-year-old bud of a girl has bloomed. Enebeli and the girl have survived much in her absence, including a disturbance at the market which saw him and the girl separated for hours while people stampeded, trying to get away from a commotion that turned out to be two warring market women who’d had just about enough of each other’s tomatoes. They survived a sex talk, birthed by a careless joke an uncle had made at a wedding, about the bride taking a cup of palm wine to her husband and leaving with a cup of, well, and the girl had questions he might as well answer before she asked someone who might take it as an invitation to demonstrate. They survived the crime scene of the girl’s first period, as heavy a bleeder as she was a sleeper, the red seeping all the way through to the other side of the mattress. They survived the girl discovering this would happen every month.

Three long years have passed and the girl is fourteen and there is a boy and he is why Enebeli is currently entrenched in what passes for the lobby to the headmaster’s office, a narrow hall painted a blaring glossy white meant to discourage the trailing of dirty child fingers but let’s be serious. He’s seated on the narrow bench meant for children and his adult buttocks find awkward purchase. The girl is in trouble for sending the boy a note and it is not the first time. Enebeli has seen the boy and, even after putting himself in the shoes of a fourteen-year-old girl, doesn’t see the appeal. The boy is a little on the short side. The boy has one ear that is significantly larger than the other. It’s noticeable. One can see the difference. Whoever cuts the boy’s hair often misses a spot so that it sticks up in uneven tufts. The only thing that saves the boy from Enebeli is that he seems as confused about the girl’s attention as everyone else.”