Nigerian American Tope Folarin takes Caine Prize for African lit

Tope Folarin, winner of the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing
(David Fleming / Caine Prize)

Utah-born author Tope Folarin considers himself part of the “Nigerian diaspora,” a connection strong enough to earn him the Caine Prize for African Writing. The prize, which comes with an award of $15,000, was presented Monday night in London.

His winning short story, “Miracle,” demonstrates an interweaving of nationalities: It is set in an evangelical Nigerian church in Texas. The judges praised it as “a delightful and beautifully paced narrative, that is exquisitely observed and utterly compelling.”

Folarin, an accomplished scholar, was born in Utah to Nigerian immigrants. As an undergraduate, he attended college in Maine, Georgia, and the University of Cape Town in South Africa. He was a Galbraith Scholar at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a Rhodes Scholar in England, earning two master’s degrees at Oxford. He now lives and works in Washington.

It’s an impressive resume. But it doesn’t have a strong connection to Africa, the continent meant to be highlighted by the award. “I haven’t been back to Nigeria since I was born, really for my naming ceremony,” he said in a 2007 interview. “That’s something I feel is missing in my life. I feel this significant hole in my life. All of my family is there. A lot of people I’ve never met, people who are just to me voices on a telephone...”


Or maybe that’s exactly the point. At The New Inquiry, Aaron Bady asks, “Is he American? Is he African? What is Africa to him? These are good questions, I think, but only as long as they are unanswered.” That’s because, he explains, “Diaspora unsettles and mobilizes....He was born a Nigerian, and he is a Nigerian, but if we look for the content of that fact, if we try to substantiate it, we will come up empty. That’s not what it means.”


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