Poet Okwudili Nebeolisa Wins Prairie Lights Fiction Contest

“I have always looked for validation for my short stories,” he said of the recognition from the Iowa City bookshop.
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Okwudili Nebeolisa (2)

Okwudili Nebeolisa.

When the poet Okwudili Nebeolisa first started to write short stories, people told him to stick to poetry. At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he is currently studying for an MFA in poetry, someone told him that his literary fiction was not good, that it read like genre.

Now the Nigerian has won the Prairie Lights Fiction Contest, organized by the biggest bookshop in Iowa City and open to all its residents. It comes with $500 for his unpublished short story.

“I have always looked for validation for the short stories I have been writing,” he told Open Country Mag. “Winning this was like a quiet voice in my head saying I shouldn’t listen to [them] and continue to write more fiction. I’m so grateful to whoever judged this prize and selected my story as the winners. It may be small but it means a lot to me. Especially because this prize has been in existence since 1990, three years before I was born.”

Nebeolisa, whose poetry has appeared four times in The Threepenny Review, was also recently selected for the Lakeside Lab Writers in Residence, a three-week program in Iowa City.

Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young, a writer, culture journalist, curator, and media consultant, is the founder and editor of Open Country Mag. He was editor of Folio Nigeria, CNN’s exclusive media affiliate in Africa, and has led or joined editorial teams at a host of platforms and projects in African literature. He has written about the Nigerian culture scene, covering innovation in over 20 fields including art, music, tech, sports, cuisine, fashion, journalism, sculpture, beauty, health, and activism. In literature, his Profile subjects have included Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Teju Cole, Damon Galgut, and Tsitsi Dangarembga. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He sat on the judging panel of The Morland Scholarship, a British grant for African writers, and currently chairs the panel of The Gerald Kraak Prize, a South African initiative for storytelling about gender, sexuality, and social justice. He has an MA in African Studies and a BA in English and History from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He taught English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. He is currently studying for an MFA at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. In 2019, he received the inaugural The Future Awards Africa Prize for Literature. In 2020, he was named among “The 100 Most Influential Young Nigerians” by Avance Media. Twitter & Instagram: @otosirieze. Website: otosirieze.com.

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