Aminatta Forna was born in Scotland, raised in Sierra Leone and Great Britain and spent periods of her childhood in Iran, Thailand and Zambia. She is the award-winning author of the novels Happiness, The Hired Man, The Memory of Love and Ancestor Stones, and a memoir The Devil that Danced on the Water. Her most recent, The Window Seat (Grove Atlantic, 2021), is a stunning new collection of essays crossings both literal and philosophical, our relationship with the natural world, and the stories that we tell ourselves.
Happiness (Grove Press 2018) is a skillful consideration on the interconnectedness of lives, our co-existence with one another and all living creatures, and the true nature of happiness. About Happiness Salman Rushdie says, “Aminatta Forna expertly weaves her characters’ stories, past and present, in and out of the larger story of London, which becomes as rich a character as the human beings and, indeed, the foxes; and she makes us care deeply about them all, the foxes, the people and the city. A terrific novel.”
Forna first gained serious literary attention for her memoir, The Devil that Danced on the Water, in which she investigates the murder of her father, Mohamed Forna, a rising star in Sierra Leone’s fledgling democracy. Upon her return to the country to investigate his murder, Aminatta discovers the far-reaching conspiracy plot that sealed his tragic fate, and powerfully confronts the politicans and judges that were responsible. Interlaced with her own vivid childhood memories, the resulting story was praised as a “lucid, exacting memoir,” by The New Yorker and a “shining example of what autobiography can be: harrowing, illuminating, thoughtful,” by USA Today. A runner up for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2003, The Devil that Danced on the Water was also chosen for the Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers series.
Ancestor Stones, her debut novel, encompasses a sweeping view of Africa in the 20th Century, told through the story of Abi, newly returned to Africa from England, and that of her four aunts, in whose divergent lives Forna renders the changes and upheavals of history, culminating in political turmoil. The Guardian declared, “here is a wonderfully ambitious novel written from the inside, opening up a particular society and delving deeply into the hearts, histories and minds of women.”
The Memory of Love is set in contemporary Sierra Leone at a hospital where the patients are coping with the wounds – both physical and psychological – from the previous century’s Civil War. A well-meaning British psychiatrist, attempting to do good in the country and escape his own painful past encounters the history of the country by befriending an elderly ex-professor whose account of the past suggests a sinister secret, and by his efforts to bring another patient out of a fuge state and into the present. The result is not only the clear-eyed and revealing look at the fallout from the previous century’s wars, but a “luminous tale of passion and betrayal,” according to The New York Times Book Review.
Aminatta is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a member of the Folio Academy. She has acted as judge for the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Bailey Prize for Women’s Fiction, the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award, the Caine Prize and the International Man Booker Prize. In 2003 Aminatta established the Rogbonko Project to build a school in a village in Sierra Leone. The charity has also run a number of projects in the spheres of adult education, sanitation and maternal health.
Aminatta’s books have been translated into twenty two languages. Her essays have appeared in Freeman’s, Granta, The Guardian, LitHub, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, The Observer and Vogue. She has written stories for BBC radio and written and presented television documentaries including “The Lost Libraries of Timbuktu” (BBC Television, 2009) and “Girl Rising” (CNN, 2013).
Aminatta is the recipient of a Windham Campbell Award from Yale University, has won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book Award 2011, a Hurston Wright Legacy Award the Liberaturpreis in Germany and the Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize. She has been a finalist for the Neustadt Prize for Literature, the Orange Prize for Fiction, the IMPAC Award and the Warwick Prize. Aminatta Forna was made OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours 2017. She is Director of the Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice at Georgetown University and Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University and currently a judge for the 2019 Giller Prize. Happiness is currently long listed for the Ondaatje Prize, the Jhalak Prize, and the European Prize or Fiction.