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Global issue 20

network Postscript commonwealth 90 l www.global -br ief ing.org f i rst quar ter 2015 global Flowers, shadows and the age of magic Nigerian author Ben Okri reflects on how moving from the UK to Africa as a child introduced him to new experiences that were to be a big influence on his future writing © Janie Airey Jade Fell Writing should be a lifelong experience, says Ben Okri, the Nigerian poet and author. Since publishing his first novel, Flowers and Shadows, at the tender age of 21, Okri has risen to international acclaim. His best known work, The Famished Road, was awarded the 1991 Booker Prize. As a newcomer to Okri’s work, you would be forgiven for seeing it as somewhat obscure. His ideas, he says, are born “out of the strangeness of reality”. To put this into context, he refers to a time when he first noticed the peculiarity of everything around him, when travelling back to Nigeria from the UK as a young boy. “Everything was strange,” he says, “the trees, and the streets, everything was unusual, and therefore brimming over with ideas.” In order to reflect this perceived strangeness of reality, Okri expresses himself in a very different way to what he calls the “old Western novel”, referring to books written by the likes of Jane Austen. This older style of writing, he says, follows a sequential pattern, born from a sequential way of thinking taught within Western institutions. Okri’s writing attempts to convey a new way of thinking, to show that writing does not need to follow a strict criteria and can instead be perceived in any number of unique ways – it can be sequential, he says, or “circular and dancing”. Okri was participating in the Cambridge Festival of Ideas – a week-long University of Cambridge public event celebrating the arts, humanities and social sciences. He reflected on his colourful writing career, sharing a Ben Okri at the Man Booker Prize awards evening in 2011. His novel The Famished Road won the prize in 1991


Global issue 20
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