Elnathan John was born in Kaduna, Nigeria. He worked as a lawyer after completing his legal studies at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria before quitting to become a full-time writer in 2012.
His short story »Bayan Layi« was shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing in 2013. In it, the author depicts the everyday lives of street children in short, no-frills sentences, showing how social deprivation and hunger can brutalize young people and turn them violent. John’s 2016 debut novel in Nigeria, »Born on a Tuesday«, picks up where this short story left off and tells the story of Dantala, a Muslim street boy living in northern Nigeria who becomes embroiled in the power struggles of religious extremists. »The New York Times« wrote of the book, which also appeared in a U.S. edition in 2016, »›Born on a Tuesday‹ brings home the reality of what is happening in northern Nigeria with a power the news reports of Boko Haram’s atrocities can’t adequately project«. In 2019, John published »Be(com)ing Nigerian: A Guide«, a satirical commentary on the state of Nigerian society in the form of an »anti-advice« book. How must one behave if one wants to rise to the rank of a reviled politician, a religious leader with a private jet, or some other privileged authority figure? »Be(com)ing Nigerian« is a stinging critique of the hypocrisy of the religious and powerful and their shameless display of immorality in what John calls a »dystopian society«. Published in 2020 and illustrated by Alaba Onajin, the graphic novel »On Ajayi Crowther Street« is set in the cosmopolitan middle class of Lagos and tells of various forms of sanctimonious double standards in colourful and detailed panels. The story examines the family of the evangelical Reverend Akpoborie, which is threatening to break apart because of lies. The son hides his sexuality, the daughter gets pregnant out of wedlock by her pastor boyfriend, and the reverend himself not only has his eye on his maid, but also deludes his congregation into thinking that he is a miracle worker. Truth has a hard time in the world John and Onajin portray. What matters here is appearances and the opinion of others.
John was honoured with the Betty Trask Award in 2017 for »Born on a Tuesday«, the Prix Les Afrique for the French translation »Né Un Mardi« and was a judge for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize. His work has been translated into German, French and Italian. He lives in Berlin and is currently working on his fifth book.