Sir Ben Okri is a poet, playwright and novelist. His novel The Famished Road won the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1991

His other novels include Starbook, The Age of Magic, Dangerous Love and Astonishing the Gods, which was selected in 2019 as one of the BBC’s ‘100 novels that shaped our world.’ He has published eleven novels, four books of short stories, two collections of essays, and three volumes of poems. His latest book of poems, A Fire in My Head, was published in January 2021. His illustrated book for adults and children, Every Leaf a Hallelujah, is published in autumn 2021.

He wrote the script for Peter Krüger’s film N: The Madness of Reason, which won the 2015 Ensor Award for Best Film, and a much-acclaimed adaptation of Camus’s The Outsider for the Coronet Theatre in London in 2018, which won The Offies Award for Best Theatre Production.

His works have been translated into 27 languages, and have won numerous international prizes including the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for Africa, the Paris Review Aga Khan Prize for Fiction, the Chianti Ruffino-Antico Fattore International Literary Prize, and the Premio Grinzane Cavour Prize. 

The recipient of many honorary doctorates, he has been a Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College, Cambridge, and is a vice-president of the English Centre of International PEN, an honorary Fellow of Mansfield College, Oxford and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He is a trustee of the Booker Prize Foundation.

He was born in Nigeria, and lives in London. In June 2023 he was awarded a knighthood in the King’s official birthday honours.

Ben Okri

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How Ben Okri wrote The Famished Road

There were times, writing at night, when the story I was telling would spook me. Those where nights when I feared for my sanity. I couldn’t shake the feeling that when people read the novel they’d think something was wrong with me. It must have taken a species of madness to write The Famished Road. It certainly took a stronger psyche than I realised I had to work on that taboo-breaking material, and to withstand the horrors involved. Writing about the spirit world at night, for a long period, is dangerous if you come from a land that believes in them. Spirit children, born several times to the same mother, have a special mythology about them, part dread, part magic. 

No one knows what I went through writing that book. You would have to have grown up in Nigeria when I did, with all those beliefs, fears and terrors, to understand what it took to push through that spirit material. While I wrote, I saw them - the spirits. They crashed through the doors of my sleep. I just kept on writing. 

Read Ben Okri’s full article here.