Lesley Nneka Arimah

Award-winning Author
5 Under 35 Honoree

Readings & Lecture Topics

  • An Evening with Lesley Nneka Arimah

“No matter how left-of-center her narratives, there’s a recognizable humanity at their core—a sense of something universal, told in unsentimental language.” —Village Voice

“A witty, oblique and mischievous storyteller, Arimah can compress a family history into a few pages and invent utopian parables, magical tales and nightmare scenarios while moving deftly between comic distancing and insightful psychological realism…her science fiction parables, with their ecological and feminist concerns, recall those of Margaret Atwood. But it would be wrong not to hail Arimah’s exhilarating originality: She is conducting adventures in narrative on her own terms, keeping her streak of light, that bright ember, burning fiercely, undimmed.” —New York Times Book Review

“I am taken with the idea of creating new myths that speak to our current world in the same way that old mythology spoke to the world in its creator’s’ time.” — Lesley Nneka Arimah

Lesley Nneka Arimah was born in Britain of Nigerian parents. She was raised in Nigeria then immigrated to the United States at the age of 13, where she spent a decade in Louisiana. She currently lives in Minnesota. Arimah’s debut collection of stories, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (Riverhead 2017) was released to major critical acclaim. The book explores the ties that bind parents and children, husbands and wives, lovers and friends to one another and to the places they call home.  The collection was named one of the most anticipated books of 2017 by Time Magazine, Elle, the Chicago Tribune, The Boston Globe, the Millions, Nylon, and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Winner of an O. Henry Prize and the Africa Regional Winner for the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, she was also shortlisted for the 2016 Caine Prize for African Writing.

A Kirkus review stated that Arimah uses Nigeria as her muse. The New York Times further observed that Arimah’s childhood living in different countries has given her an exceptionally acute insider’s view of three societies: “Yet race and color, prejudice and conflict are not the dominant themes in her work. Rather, she examines the cruelty, losses and imbalances brought about by clashes between women, especially girls. Arimah is most insightful when exploring the complex relations between mothers and daughters and between young women.” And from The Rumpus: “In an array of settings—from Nigeria to Minneapolis to science fiction realms—Arimah’s characters all reckon with the burden of cultural and parental expectation. Childhood concerns mingle with tales of civil war and Yoruba parables, and girls negotiate the inheritance of tradition and trauma while finding their own path. But this message of self-determination is not always clear-cut, as these attempts at individualism often lead back to the deeply entrenched roots….in our current political climate with its rampant animosity towards immigrants, Arimah offers a humanizing portrait of both the Nigerian citizen and first generation young female immigrant. She showcases their flaws, their desires, their victories, and their attempts at carving out a place in a country whose customs and values diverge from that of their heritage.”

Arimah’s short stories have appeared in, among other publications, Harper’s, GRANTA, and The New Yorker; the story “Who Will Greet You at Home,” was The New Yorker’s National Magazine Award finalist. Her work has received grants and awards from AWP, the Elizabeth George Foundation, and the Jerome Foundation.

She is currently at work on a novel, The Children of Bones.

Lesley Nneka Arimah’s Website

Lesley Nneka Arimah was born in the UK to Nigerian parents and grew up wherever her father was stationed for work, which was sometimes Nigeria, sometimes not. She is the author of What Happens When a Man Falls from the Sky (Riverhead, 2017), which was named one of the most anticipated books of 2017 by Time Magazine, Elle, the Chicago Tribune, the Boston Globe, the Millions, Nylon, and the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Winner of an O. Henry Prize and the Africa Regional Winner for the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, She has been published in The New Yorker and Granta. Her story ‘Light’ was winner of the 2015 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa, and she has twice been shortlisted for the Caine Prize, 2016 and 2017.

She is currently at work on a novel, The Children of Bones.


“Stunning.” –O, the Oprah Magazine

“Arimah’s voice is vibrant and fresh, her topics equally timely and timeless. This is a slim, rare volume that left me compelled to press it into the hands of friends, saying, ‘You must read this.’” –The Washington Post

This dazzlingly accomplished debut collection explores the ties that bind parents and children, husbands and wives, lovers and friends to one another and to the places they call home. In “Who Will Greet You at Home,” a National Magazine Award finalist for The New Yorker, a woman desperate for a child weaves one out of hair, with unsettling results. In “Wild,” a disastrous night out shifts a teenager and her Nigerian cousin onto uneasy common ground. In “The Future Looks Good,” three generations of women are haunted by the ghosts of war, while in “Light,” a father struggles to protect and empower the daughter he loves. And in the title story, in a world ravaged by flood and riven by class, experts have discovered how to “fix the equation of a person” – with rippling, unforeseen repercussions. Evocative, playful, subversive, and incredibly human, What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky heralds the arrival of a prodigious talent with a remarkable career ahead of her.

Read Selected Short Stories by Leslie Nneka Arimah

Who Will Greet You at Home – The New Yorker

Light – Grant

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky – Catapult

LIGHT (short story excerpt)
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.

The headmaster calls Enebeli in and hands him the note. This one reads ‘Buki, I love you. I will give you many sons,’ and it takes everything Enebeli has not to guffaw. Where does the girl get all this? Not from her mother, whose personality and humour are of the quieter sort, and not from him, who would be perfectly content sitting by a river, watching the water swirl by. He promises to chastise the girl and assures the headmaster that it will not happen again. It happens two more times before the girl learns to pass notes better. And he should chastise the girl, he knows that, but she is his brightest ember and he would not have her dimmed.

SECOND CHANCES (Short Story Excerpt)
Ignore for a moment that two years out of grad school I’m old enough to buy my own bed and shouldn’t ask my father to chip in on a mattress so that he shows up with my mother, who looks like she’s stepped out of a photograph, and she tries to charm the salesman, something she was never good at, but it somehow works this time and he takes off 20 percent. Ignore for a moment that she is wearing an outfit I haven’t seen in eighteen years, not since Nigeria, when she was pregnant with my younger sister, not yet showing, and had fallen down the concrete steps to our house, ripping the dress from hem to thigh. Ignore that she flits from bed to bed bouncing on each one like she hasn’t sat on a mattress in a while and the salesman follows her around like he’d like to crawl in with her. Ignore all this because my mother has been dead for eight years.

My father avoids the look I give him and I’m glad there are beds around because I stagger into one, unable to stand. When I grab my father’s wrist—I cannot at this juncture imagine touching her—he twists away from me. I follow him, but he refuses to be cornered, so I walk up to my mother and ask “What the hell are you doing here?”
The salesman looks at me like I kicked her and she looks pained, like I might as well have. But shock leaves very little room for guilt.

“Your daddy and I are buying you a bed, didn’t you say you wanted a bed?”
The gentle chiding is one I’d never thought to hear again and my knees almost buckle but something about the casual way she’s correcting me, like she’s got any right, angers me.
“Why are you here? You’re supposed to be—”

My father interrupts this.

“Do you want the bed or not?”

I’m surrounded and both of them stare at me expectantly. I want to press the issue, but I also really, really need the bed. I nod and the salesman hesitates like he doesn’t want to give the discount if it’s for me, but walks away to ring it up. My mother is digging through her purse and I know it’s not to pay because she never does when my dad is around. But maybe she’s different now. Then she sighs and says “Ike, darling, have you seen my sunglasses?