Forna in Frankfurt am Main, 2008
1964 (age 51–52)
University College London
Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best Book Award 2011, 2014 Windham–Campbell Literature Prize (Fiction)
Aminatta Forna (born 1964) is a Scottish-born British writer. She is the author of a memoir, The Devil that Danced on the Water,and three novels: Ancestor Stones (2006), The Memory of Love (2010) and The Hired Man (2013). Her novel The Memory of Love was awarded the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for "Best Book" in 2011, and was also shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Forna is Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and was, until recently, Sterling Brown Distinguished Visiting Professor at Williams College in Massachusetts.
On 7 March 2014, Aminatta Forna was announced as the recipient of the 2014 Windham–Campbell Literature Prize(Fiction).
In 2015 Forna was part of the judging panel which awarded the Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award to Yiyun Li.The finalists for the 2016 Neustadt International Prize for Literature were announced in May 2015. The list included Forna and writers, poets and playwrights from around the world. The majority of the finalists were women writers.
2.1The Devil that Danced on the Water
2.3The Memory of Love
2.5The Hired Man
4Awards and honours
Forna was born in Bellshill, Scotland, in 1964 to a Sierra Leonean father, Mohamed Forna, and a Scottish mother, Maureen Christison. When Forna was six months old the family travelled to Sierra Leone, where Mohamed Forna worked as a physician. He later became involved in politics and entered government, only to resign citing a growth in political violence and corruption. Between 1970 and 1973 he was imprisoned and declared an Amnesty Prisoner of Conscience. Mohamed Forna was hanged on charges of treason in 1975. The events of Forna's childhood and her investigation into the conspiracy surrounding her father's death are the subject of the memoir The Devil that Danced on the Water.
Forna studied law at University College London and was a Harkness Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2013 she assumed a post as Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University.
Between 1989 and 1999 Forna worked for the BBC, both in radio and television, as a reporter and documentary maker in the spheres of arts and politics. She is also known for her Africa documentaries: Through African Eyes (1995), Africa Unmasked (2002) and The Lost Libraries of Timbuktu (2009). Forna is also a board member of the Royal National Theatre and a judge for The Man Booker International Prize 2013.
Aminatta Forna is married to the furniture designer Simon Westcott and lives in south-east London.
Forna's work, both fiction and non-fiction, is typically concerned with the prelude and aftermath to war, memory, the conflict between private narratives and official histories, and examines how the gradual accretion of small, seemingly insignificant acts of betrayal find expression in full-scale horror. In her fiction she employs multiple voices and shifting timelines.
The Devil that Danced on the Water
The Devil that Danced on the Water, Forna's first book, received wide critical acclaim across the UK and the US. It was broadcast on BBC Radio and went on to become runner-up for the UK's Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction.
Ancestor Stones, Forna's second book and first novel, won the Hurston-Wright Legacy Award for debut fiction in the US and the Liberaturpreis in Germany and was nominated for the International IMPAC Award. The Washington Post named Ancestor Stones one of the most important books of 2006. In 2007, Forna was named by Vanity Fairmagazine as one of Africa's best new writers.
The Memory of Love
The Memory of Love, winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize Best Book Award 2011, was described by the judges as "a bold, deeply moving and accomplished novel" and Forna as "among the most talented writers in literature today"; The Memory of Love was also shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award 2012, theOrange Prize for Fiction 2011 and the Warwick Prize for Writing.
Aminatta Forna was one of 10 writers contributing to 10x10 Girl Rising. The film tells the stories of 10 girls in 10 developing countries. The girls' stories are written by 10 acclaimed writers and narrated by 10 world-class actresses, including Meryl Streep, Anne Hathaway, Freida Pinto and Cate Blanchett. The film premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January 2013.
The Hired Man
The Hired Man, Forna's third novel, was published to wide acclaim in the UK in March 2013. In the United States The Millions listed The Hired Man as one of the most anticipated books of the second half of 2013, with the Boston Globe stating that "not since "Remains of the Day" has an author so skilfully revealed the way history's layers are often invisible to all but its participants, who do what they must to survive".
Critics further praised Forna's forensic research and unmatched ability to evoke atmosphere, place and powerful emotions in explaining "the horrors of our times, those that will follow us to the grave" but also of exposing how we observe, participate and play a role in events. International praise referred to the novel's bewitching pacing, precision, characterisations and atmposphere, with India's The Sunday Guardian in particular singling out The Hired Man as "A harrowing story, not so much of forgiveness, but of painful forbearing, of how we learn to live with our enemies, the people who have caused us the most grievous harm, how we exist and work side-by-side with them because the new ways of the world favour forgetfulness of past sins." Lindsey Hilsum, International Editor for Channel 4 News, who reported extensively on the Balkan conflict, nominated The Hired Man as her choice for the Alternative Booker, saying: "Never mind the Booker: the year's most award-worthy book is The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna. Set in Croatia it explores themes of conflict, the lasting impact of war and 'how anger never quite fades'."
Of The Hired Man's setting in Croatia, addressing the ethnic cleansing which followed the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, Forna said: "There’s a saying: ‘Write about what you know.’ There is an addition to that: ‘Write about what you want to understand.’ That’s the case with the new book."
At the close of 2013, The Hired Man featured on several lists of the best books of the year, most notably in The Boston Globe and The Independent.
The Devil that Danced on the Water. Grove Press. 18 December 2003. ISBN 978-0-8021-4048-7.
Ancestor Stones. Atlantic Monthly Press. 14 August 2006. ISBN 978-0-87113-944-3.
The Memory of Love. Bloomsbury. April 2010. ISBN 978-1-4088-0813-9.
The Hired Man. Bloomsbury. March 2013. ISBN 978-1-4088-1877-0.
Awards and honours
2003 Samuel Johnson Prize (shortlist), The Devil that Danced on the Water
2007 Hurston-Wright Legacy Award (winner), Ancestor Stones
2007 IMPAC Award (nomination), Ancestor Stones
2008 Liberaturpreis (winner), Ancestor Stones
2010 Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize, Ancestor Stones
2010 BBC National Short Story Award (nomination), "Haywards Heath"
2010 Warwick Prize for Writing (shortlist), The Memory of Love
2011 Commonwealth Writers' Prize (winner), The Memory of Love
2011 Orange Prize for Fiction (shortlist), The Memory of Love
2012 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (shortlist), The Memory of Love
2014 Windham–Campbell Literature Prize (Fiction), valued at $150,000 one of the largest prizes in the world of its kind.
2016 Neustadt International Prize for Literature (finalist)