Arinze Ifeakandu was in his flat in a city in southeastern Nigeria when he got the news last week: he had just received the inaugural Republic of Consciousness Prize for the US and Canada. It is his first win in a series of major awards recognition for God’s Children Are Little Broken Things, his debut collection exploring gay life in Nigeria.
“It feels like a kind of sealing the deal,” he told Open Country Mag. “It made me more balanced. It’s a cliché but it’s like when we say that a book has taken on a life of its own.”
The nine-story collection was published in the US last June by A Public Space Books, and in the UK by W&N. But even before publication, the 28-year old graduate of Nsukka and of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop was praised by Damon Galgut, Edmund White, and Colm Toibin, and compared to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Zadie Smith. His book is proving worthy of such lofty praise, establishing him as one of the breakout debut writers of the 2022-23 season.
Making both our anticipated and notable titles of 2022, God’s Children Are Little Broken Things received a 4-star review from our staff writer Emmanuel Esomnofu, who called it “a testament to an incoming generation of African writers, and in time will serve as an anchor of motivation.”
Months later, it was shortlisted for the $50,000 Kirkus Prize for Fiction — alongside Michelle de Kretser for Scary Monsters, Susan Straight for Mecca, Yoko Tawada for Scattered All Over the Earth, Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk for The Books of Jacob, and eventual winner Hernan Diaz for Trust.
Then the book earned a Spotlight Mention from the Story Prize. Then last month, it was shortlisted for the Lambda Awards, in the Gay Fiction category, up against Rasheed Newson’s My Government Means to Kill Me, Joao Gilbert Noll’s Hugs and Cuddles, Danny Ramadan’s The Foghorn Echoes, and Marcial Gala’s Call Me Cassandra.
Two weeks ago, it became one of four debut books on the Dylan Thomas Prize shortlist, where it competes with Robbie Arnott’s Limberlost, Sara Baume’s Seven Steeples, Sheena Patel’s I’m a Fan, Saba Sam’s Send Nudes, and Warsan Shire’s Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head. The £20,000 award rewards authors aged 39 or under.
When the Republic of Consciousness Prize for the US and Canada director Lori Feathers announced Ifeakandu as winner, she praised God’s Children Are Little Broken Things for its “satisfying emotional depth, immersive depiction of contemporary Nigeria, stylistic grace, and sensually rich writing.”
The prize recognizes literary fiction published by a small press. Half of the $15,000 money will go to the authors and the rest to their publishers, with a three-way split between publisher, translator, and author for translated titles.
The four other finalists are Suzette Mayr for The Sleeping Car Porter, Gabriela Ponce for Blood Red, Hans von Trotha for Pollak’s Arm, and Jon Fosse for A New Name, Septology VI-VII.
God’s Children Are Little Broken Things is now set to be released in Nigeria. Its publisher, Anwuli Ojogwu of Narrative Landscape Press, told Open Country Mag that the book’s reception abroad is “a testament of [Ifeakandu’s] skill to tell powerful stories of the complexities of relationships and the tenderness of human emotions that every reader can relate to.”
Narrative Landscape, an indie press with a reputation for being selective, has on its list Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Marlon James, and is looking out for outstanding emerging talents.
“It is clear that Nigerian fiction is evolving and becoming more diverse with young writers like Arinze,” Ojogwu said.
The winner of the Dylan Thomas Prize will be announced on May 11, and the Lambda Awards in June, and Ifeakandu is waiting, hoping.
“There’s this tiny anxiety about the future,” he said, “a result of my class and nationality, that is softened by all the recognition.” Born in Sabon Gari, Kano, to working class parents, he knew what it means to fend for himself and his siblings.
He is inspired by the book’s performance. “It is one thing to write a good book, it is another for it to get into the hands and minds of the masses. I didn’t know how the journey would go, I just had this faith that people would appreciate it. Increasingly, I feel like I have a future in this field, that I will not be broke, and it buys me enough stillness to continue working.” ♦
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