Namwali Serpell was born in Lusaka, Zambia in 1980. At the age of nine, she moved with her family to Baltimore, USA. She attended both Harvard and Yale universities.
Her first published short story »Muzungu« was taken up in the 2009 »Best American Short Stories« anthology and short-listed for the renowned Caine Prize for African Writing in 2010. »Muzungu« is the story of a precocious nine year-old girl named Isa and her parents, who live as white expats in Zambia. Isa has a distant relationship to her parents. An only child, she seeks out the company of the black service staff, at which point she becomes conscious of her otherness in the black community, where she is referred to as »Muzungu«. In fact, the first sentence of the short story already reflects the entire thematic complex of identity, racism and the coexistence of black and white: »Isabella was nine years old before she understood what being white meant.« Serpell drew her inspiration for the story from an anecdote told to her by her father, a white man. In 2015, Serpell received the Caine Prize for »The Sack«. She shared the prize money of £10,000 with the four other authors on the short list, although she insisted this was not an act of generosity but rather a criticism of the competitive nature of the prize. Her short story focuses on the relationship between two men and a woman whom both men are in love with. Serpell noted that the inspiration for this story came from a dream she had when she was seventeen years old. The jury called the text »formally innovative, stylistically stunning, haunting and enigmatic«. In »The Man with the Hole in His Face« (2011), the author exposes safari tourism as a new form of colonialism where rich white people pay to experience nature. Serpell’s short stories have been published in anthologies and leading newspapers, including »The Believer«, »n+1« and »McSweeney’s Quarterly«. In 2018, Serpell will publish her first novel under the title »The Old Drift«, which will portray the fortunes of three families over several generations.
Serpell is also an academic. She teaches in the Department of English at the University of California, Berkeley, and has published several essays as well as her 2014 monograph »Seven Modes of Uncertainty«. Namwali Serpell lives in San Francisco.