If there was a Google search and the phrase was ‘turning adversity to great accomplishment’, Okorafor’s name might just pop up. This irrepressible, prolific Nigerian-American writer, Nnedimma Nkemdili Okorafor, is heading for Hollywood –and in a big way!
She recently announced via her Facebook page that she would be starting her own TV production company, Africanfuturism Productions, Inc.
The company, she says, will focus exclusively on television series because of the relative freedom that medium (television) affords. And going by the huge success Okorafor has made of her writing, she is sure to be a hit with Hollywood in no distant future. Nnedi Okorafor is already one of science fiction’s smartest and most successful voices.
Her novel, Who Fears Death, won the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, and is currently being produced as a TV series by Game of Thrones’ George R. Martin for HBO. She is also writing the script for Viola Davis’s Wild Seed.
She was commissioned by Marvel in 2018 to write a standalone comic for Black Panther’s ‘Shuri’ played by British actress, Leticia Wright.
A science fiction and fantasy author, the compulsion to write, for Nnedi Okorafor, came at the age of 19 on a hospital bed, while paralyzed from the waist down due to an adverse reaction to surgery. Bedridden for months, she began writing.
“The only way I was able to keep my sanity was to write little stories to myself,” she says.
What started in that hospital bed has today become a career for Okorafor who is now firmly established as an accomplished author of comics, based on the Black Panther movie. She has also written a spinoff graphic novel, Wakanda Forever, and nearly a dozen other books.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, United States, to Igbo parents, Nnedi desired to be an entomologist due to her interest in insects; but at the age of 13, she was diagnosed with scoliosis (an abnormal curvature of the spine) , a condition that worsened as she grew older.
During her years attending Homewood-Flossmoor High School in Flossmoor, Illinois, Okorafor was a nationally-known tennis and track star, and excelled in math and the sciences.
At 19, she underwent spinal fusion surgery to straighten and fuse her spine but a rare complication led to her becoming paralyzed from the waist down. Okorafor turned to writing small stories in the margins of a science-fiction book that she had.
That summer, with intense physical therapy, she regained her ability to walk, but she was unable to continue her athletic career. At the suggestion of a close friend, she took a creative writing class that spring semester, and was writing her first novel by the end of that semester.
She eventually wrote five novels, not caring whether they were ever published or whether anyone would ever read them.
“I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I was doing was practising,” she says.
She eventually fully regained her ability to walk, but she had caught, fully, the writing bug and changed her college major from pre-med to creative writing — much to her parents’ horror.
According to her, she found her way to science fiction through her frequent experiences visiting her relatives in Nigeria. Her first stories were influenced by Igbo tribal traditions and folklore, and later, Nigerian culture and technology.
Okorafor received a 2001 Hurston-Wright literary award for her story Amphibious Green. Her short stories have been published in anthologies and magazines, including Dark Matter: Reading the Bones, Enkare Review, Strange Horizons, Moondance magazine, and Writers of the Future Volume XVIII. A collection of her stories, entitled Kabu Kabu, was published by Prime Books in 2013.
After her 2001 Hurston-Wright award, Okorafor then published two acclaimed books for young adults, The Shadow Speaker and Zahrah the Windseeker. Zahrah won the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. It was also shortlisted for the 2005 Carl Brandon Parallax and Kindred Awards and was a finalist for the Garden State Teen Book Award and the Golden Duck Award.
The Shadow Speaker was a winner of the Carl Brandon Parallax Award, a Booksense Pick for Winter 2007/2008, a Tiptree Honor Book, and a finalist for the Essence Magazine Literary Award, the Andre Norton Award and the Golden Duck Award.
Okorafor holds a master’s degree in journalism from Michigan State University and a master’s degree and PhD in English from the University of Illinois, Chicago.