Ben Okri was born in Minna, Nigeria, in 1959, the son of Silver Oghekeneshineke Loloje Okri and Grace Okri, both of the Urhobo ethnic group of southwestern Nigeria. His father was an executive officer with the Nigerian Post and Telecommunications. After finishing his secondary education in 1972, three months before his fourteenth birthday, Okri moved to Lagos. He is the first Nigerian writer to have won the Booker McConnell Prize and the first to have chosen self-expatriation; he settled in London, England. He has been poetry editor of the magazine West Africa and a broadcaster for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Ben Okri (OHK-rih) was born on March 15, 1959, in Minna, central Nigeria, to Grace and Silver Oghekeneshineke Loloje Okri. His father held a management-level position at the Nigerian Railway but wished to pursue a law degree in England. As a result, the Okri family moved to London, where Ben began his education at the John Donne Primary School in Southwark. He returned to Nigeria with his mother shortly before the outbreak of the Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970. Okri’s education continued at the Children’s Home School in Ibadan, the Mayflower School in Ikenne, and the Urhobo College (secondary school) in Warri, from which he graduated at the age of fourteen.
Okri’s early years had a profound impact on his writing. His exposure to both European and African cultures gave the future novelist the breadth and richness of perspective that marks his mature work. The experience of the Nigerian civil war, also known as the Biafran war, introduced Okri to the painful reality of contemporary African politics that was to become one of his central literary preoccupations. During the 1967-1970 conflict, which followed a failed military coup and secession attempt, the Igbo ethnic group became the target of violent retaliation. As a half Igbo, Grace Okri was forced to go through a period of hiding, remembered by her son as a time of uncertainty marked by frequent changes of address and the necessity of flight. This childhood experience of destabilization sharpened Okri’s awareness of the strong ethnic and political tensions within the newly independent, modern Nigerian state.
After completing his secondary schooling, Okri worked toward a correspondence degree in journalism while holding a job as a clerk in a paint store. During this period, he wrote poetry, fiction, and journalism, occasionally publishing short stories in newspapers and magazines. He also read voraciously, drawing both on his father’s extensive library of Western literary classics and on the work of his great contemporaries, including Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. Okri’s father, having received his London law degree, opened a...
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Over the course of three decades, Ben Okri’s work has evolved from realistic depictions of modern Nigerian life to innovative fictional explorations of contemporary spiritual identity. Expanding the boundaries of the novelistic form, Okri’s narratives combine European and African storytelling traditions in surprising and original ways. Although his work is grounded in the political and social realities of his times, Okri’s main focus is the journey of human consciousness as it negotiates its place in a complex and ever-changing universe.