Aminatta Forna

Aminatta Forna is an author, broadcaster and journalist. She was born in Scotland, raised in Sierra Leone and Britain, and spent periods of her childhood in Iran, Thailand and Zambia. She is the award-winning author of three novels The Hired Man (2014); The Memory of Love (2010), winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book Award and shortlisted for the Orange Prize; and Ancestor Stones (2006), winner of the PEN Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Her critically acclaimed memoir, The Devil that Danced on the Water, was published in 2002 then serialized on BBC Radio 4 and extracted in The Sunday Times newspaper. The Times of London writes of Forna that “She threads her stories like music… . One is left hauntingly familiar with the distant and alien; not quite able to distinguish the emotional spirits of fiction from the scars of real experience.” In 2003, Aminatta established the Rogbonko Project to build a school in a village in Sierra Leone. The charity now runs a number of projects in the spheres of education, sanitation and maternal health.

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.

Forna’s most recent novel, The Hired Man, has been declared a Best Book of the Year by NPR, the Boston Globe, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Set in Croatia, this suspenseful story centers a local hunter, Duro Kolak, and his friendship with a British family that has come to occupy a house in the town with a dark and infamous history, which begins to bubble to the surface as the locals make their unhappiness with the outsiders known.

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.

Forna is currently a Lannan Visiting Chair at Georgetown University. Prior appointments have been at Bath Spa University and Williams College, Massachusetts. She is also a columnist for the Guardian, and her writing has appeared in Granta, The Times, The Observer and Vogue. She has acted as judge for a number of literary awards and was most recently a judge for the 2013 International Man Booker Prize.

Conference Engagements


Friday, June 16: 12:30-1:50pm
Auditorium Event

Aminatta Forna

Chaired by Joya Uraizee
Venue: Sterling Law Building Lecture Theater

Saturday, June 17: 12:30-2:00pm
WOCALA Caucus Lunch
Keynote Speaker Aminatta Forna

Venue: Afro-American Cultural Center, Lighten Room (Room B01)