Born and raised in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, Chinelo Okparanta received her BS from Pennsylvania State University, her MA from Rutgers University, and her MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. A Colgate University Olive B. O'Connor Fellow in Fiction as well as a recipient of the University of Iowa's Provost's Postgraduate Fellowship in Fiction, Okparanta was nominated for a US Artists Fellowship in 2012. She has been awarded additional fellowships, faculty appointments, and visiting professorships at Columbia University, Purdue University, Middlebury College (Bread Loaf's John Gardner Fellow in Fiction), Howard University (Hurston/Wright Foundation Summer Writing Workshop Fiction Faculty), City College of New York, and the University of Houston (Distinguished Visiting Professor of Fiction). She has been awarded residencies by the Jentel Foundation, the Hermitage Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, the Lannan Foundation (Marfa), as well as Hedgebrook. She was Associate Professor of English & Creative Writing (Fiction) at Bucknell University, where she was also C. Graydon & Mary E. Rogers Faculty Research Fellow as well as Margaret Hollinshead Ley Professor in Poetry & Creative Writing until 2021. She is currently Associate Professor of English and Director of the Program in Creative Writing at Swarthmore College.
She is a winner of a 2014 Lambda Literary Award, a 2016 Lambda Literary Award, the 2016 Jessie Redmon Fauset Book Award in Fiction, the 2016 Inaugural Betty Berzon Emerging Writer Award from the Publishing Triangle, and a 2014 O. Henry Prize.
Photo by Obi Umeozor
Other honors include a finalist selection for the 2017 International DUBLIN Literary Award, a 2017 Amelia Bloomer Project Selection (of the American Library Association), a nomination for the 2016 Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Legacy Award, and a nomination for the 2016 NAACP Image Award in Fiction.
In 2018, Okparanta served as a fiction judge for the National Book Awards. She has served on the judging panels for other major national awards such as the PEN Open Book Awards and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards.
Her debut short story collection, Happiness, Like Water, was cited as an editors’ choice in the New York Times Book Review and was named on the list of The Guardian’s Best African Fiction of 2013. The book was nominated for the Nigerian Writers Award (Young Motivational Writer of the Year), longlisted for the 2013 Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and was a finalist for the 2014 New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award as well as the Etisalat Prize for Literature. Okparanta was also a finalist for the 2013 Caine Prize for African Writing, the 2013 Society of Midland Authors Award, and the 2014 Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative in Literature.
She has published work in The New Yorker, Granta, Tin House, the Kenyon Review, AGNI, and other venues, and was named one of Granta’s six New Voices for 2012. In 2017, Okparanta was named one of Granta's Best of Young American Novelists. Under the Udala Trees is her first novel. Her second novel is Harry Sylvester Bird (HarperCollins/Mariner Books USA, 2022).