Meet Aminatta Forna, PhD

Aminatta Forna
Headshot of Aminatta Forna

Aminatta Forna, PhD, is an award-winning transnational writer; professor of subjects that include African Literature, Transnational Literature, and Creative Writing; and Director of the Lannan Center.

She grew up in a medical household, daughter of a Sierra Leonean doctor and a British mother. She was born in Scotland, and raised largely in Sierra Leone and Britain, also spending periods of her life in Iran, Thailand and Zambia, as a result of her stepfather’s work as a diplomat. Most recently, she has also lived in the United States for a sum of over 8 years, first as a fellow at the University of California, Berkeley in the late 1990s, then teaching at Williams College in 2011 and 2013, and currently at Georgetown University. 

Her experience of movement and contact with different cultures have put her in a privileged position to understand and make sense of various ways of understanding reality and the misunderstandings surface between people from different backgrounds, which she has captured in her writing. She also highlights the value of reading outside one’s culture and exploring the parallels between the historical experiences of distinct regions, considering that the world is very much alike, and there is something to be learned from that.

Aminatta Forna is part of the second wave of African writers, who started writing in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s to make sense of the dictatorships and dawn of independence across the African continent. Being part of that movement in history turned her into a politically engaged writer, whose writing engages with the real world, the medical world, the political world, the world of human experience.

Her books include The Window Seat: Notes from a Life in Motion, The Devil that Danced on the Water, Happiness, The Hired Man, The Memory of Love and Ancestor Stones. Her articles and essays have appeared in many publications including The Yale Review, Freeman’s, Granta, Literary Hub, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, Orion, The Guardian and The Observer. Her most recent updates can be found on her personal website.

Featured media, scholarship, and events

Lannan Symposium: Reading and Writing the Body

February 6th, 2023

Pictured left to right: Rabih Alameddine, Meghan O’Rourke, Daniel Marchalik, and Tope Folarin. In February 2023, Medical Humanities collaborated with the Lannan Center on the Lannan…

Banner for the event "Double Visions: Aminatta Forna and Laila Lalami at the PEN America World Voices Festival"

Double Visions: Aminatta Forna and Laila Lalami at the 2022 PEN America: World Voices Festival

May 14th, 2022

The second day of the 2022 PEN America: World Voices Festival featured Aminatta Forna in conversation with Pulitzer Prize Finalist Laila Lalami. Both of these authors draw from their own lives to explore the desire for belonging in boundary-crossing experiences centered on identity, notions of place, and questions of origin. Together, they discussed how their nonfiction works document life on the edges of belonging—across cultures, countries, and eras.…

Banner for the event "Abdulrazak Gurnah at the PEN America World Voices Festival"

Nobel Laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah in Conversation with Aminatta Forna and Others at the 2022 PEN America: World Voices Festival

May 13th, 2022

The opening night of the 2022 PEN America: World Voices Festival celebrated the work of Tanzanian novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah, in his first appearance in the United States after being awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature last October. This event, which took place in New York on May 13, featured readings, performances, and a conversation with Aminatta Forna, Nadifa Mohamed, Esau Pritchett, Alsarah, and others.…

In Your Shoes Reckoning with Our PastImagining Our Future performance

“In Your Shoes: Reckoning with Our Past/Imagining Our Future“ Closes the 2022 Lannan Symposium “Beyond Identity: Reimagining the American Narrative”

March 23rd, 2022

This performance, which was the closing event of the 2022 Lannan Symposium, “Beyond Identity: Reimagining the American Narrative,” displayed The Lab’s award-winning In Your Shoes methodology, created and developed around the world by Derek Goldman, in which participants have deep, open conversations around a topic and then perform one another’s perspectives.…

Aminatta Forna & John Freeman in conversation

Aminatta Forna in Conversation with John Freeman

November 9th, 2021

On November 9th, 2021, the Lannan Center presented a reading and talk featuring author Aminatta Forna and editor John Freeman to discuss her recently launched book, The Window Seat.…

Sofi Oksanen

An Evening with Acclaimed Writer Sofi Oksanen

September 21st, 2021

Virtual reading and conversation with one of the most awarded literary authors in Scandinavia, Finnish-Estonian novelist and playwright , Sofi Oksanen. Moderated by Lannan Center Director, Aminatta Forna.…

Always Take Notes logo

Always Take Notes Podcast, Episode 115: Aminatta Forna

August 24th, 2021

Aminatta Forna speaks with the Always Take Notes hosts, Simon Akam and Rachel Lloyd, about her early work at the BBC, the similarities between creative non-fiction and fiction and her decision to take up a post at Georgetown University.…

Banner for the event "Readings and Talks Featuring Valeria Luiselli"

Readings and Talks featuring Valeria Luiselli

October 20th, 2020

Evening with award-winning novelist and essayist, Valeria Luiselli. This event was moderated by Lannan Center Director and author Aminatta Forna and was cosponsored by the Georgetown Medical Humanities Initiative.…

BBC Radio 4 - Bookclub logo

BBC Radio 4 – Bookclub: Aminatta Forna – The Memory of Love

September 5th, 2019

Aminatta Forna discusses her novel The Memory of Love with James Naughtie and a group of readers at the BBC Radio – 4 Bookclub podcast. The Memory of Love has as its background three decades of unrest and violence in Sierra Leone, Aminatta Forna’s father’s home country and the one where she mostly grew up.…