Aminatta Forna was born in Glasgow, Scotland, her mother’s native country, in 1964. She grew up with her father and stepmother in Sierra Leone and England, where she received her education, and went on to study law at University College London. She settled down in the British capital and worked for the following ten years as a journalist for the BBC, where she presented, among other things, cultural programmes as well as a political magazine for radio and television. She also produced several documentaries.
In 2000, Forna began research in Sierra Leone for a book about her father, Mohamed Forna. After studying medicine in Scotland, he had become active in the politics of his country, independent since 1961, and had reached the position of minister of finance. Then in 1975, five years after handing in his resignation in protest against undemocratic tendencies within the government, he was executed for alleged treason. In her memoir »The Devil that Danced on the Water« (2002), Forna depicts the scandalous background to the trial and her own childhood in a country sliding into one-party dictatorship and civil war.
Whilst carrying out research, Forna came across impressive life stories that inspired her to write her first novel, »Ancestor Stones« (2006), which tells of four women’s struggle towards self-assertion. Their mothers were among the eleven wives of a plantation owner. »What I was really interested in about their lives was the mirroring of the personal with the political, and I think women’s lives do that in a way that men’s lives just don’t.« The private testimonies tell – says Forna – »other truths« than the official relevant facts can and fuse in the novel into a profound, impressionistic version of the recent history of the region, forming a counterpart to her previous work.
Forna writes for newspapers such as »The Economist«, »The Sunday Times«, »The Observer«, »Vanity Fair« and »Vogue.« Recently, she has been spending several months of the year in Sierra Leone. She has participated in helping to build a school in her family’s village and has begun growing cashews on her grandfather’s plantation alongside her cousin.
She has gained scholarships and numerous awards for her work as a journalist and writer, including a nomination for the Samuel Johnson Prize, the Hurston/Wright Prize and distinctions awarded by the »New York Times« and the »Washington Post.« Forna has acted as a judge for the MacMillan African Writer’s Prize, the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Caine Prize, and is on the Board for the latter prize. She is currently working on her second novel.
© international literature festival berlin