Irenosen Okojie: ‘The trick is to stay curious’

This week’s guest on the Bookshelfie podcast is the award-winning writer and judge for the 2023 Women’s Prize for Fiction, Irenosen Okojie. Irenosen is the author of the intoxicating debut novel Butterfly Fish and the acclaimed short story collections Speak Gigantular and Nudibranch, counting among her fans the likes of Bernardine Evaristo and Margaret Atwood. When not delving into 70+ novels as part of her Women’s Prize judging duties, Irenosen seeks out writers who will surprise her, challenge her and encourage her to push the boundaries in her own writing – the weirder the better. 

Irenosen sat down with host Vick Hope to share her top five life-changing reads, from Jamaica Kincaid to Deborah Levy. Read on for a flavour of the list and listen to the episode in full.


Joe Trace – in his fifties, door-to-door salesman of Cleopatra beauty products, erstwhile devoted husband – shoots dead his lover…

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‘This is the book that changed my life. I read this book when I was 14 years old. I had never read anything like it before … I love the fact that it is so unapologetic and unwavering in its exploration of black life in all its richness and complexity and multiplicity.’

Black Vodka

‘Elisa said Yes and I said Yes. We said Yes in all the European languages. Yes. We said yes we…

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‘The stories are potent and thought-provoking and strange and moving and otherworldly. It just made me want to write, and I remember finishing the collection and being like, “Right, I want to craft stories. I don’t know how I’m going to do it but I’ll figure it out.”‘

At the Bottom of the River

At the Bottom of the River is Jamaica Kincaid’s first published work, a selection of inter-connected prose poems told from the…

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‘I would describe [these stories] as an amalgamation of art and literature. They feel like paintings, but they’re also stories, but they’re also prose poems. It’s like falling into this rabbit hole of creativity, where the landscapes feel familiar and new as well.’

I Am, I Am, I Am

I Am, I Am, I Am is Sunday Times bestseller and Costa Novel-Award winner Maggie O’Farrell’s electric and shocking memoir of the near…

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‘I was just so blown away by her generosity of spirit as a writer, to bring us into her world, and to show us these profound essays about life … I thought about this book for days after I read it, for weeks. It’s a book I recommend to any woman I care about.’

The God of Small Things

‘They all broke the rules. They all crossed into forbidden territory. They all tampered with the laws that lay down…

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‘It felt like a window into a different time and place. And I love just being completely and utterly transported … When I think about writing and crafts, and what’s possible, this is something that comes to mind. It’s just a magical, powerful and heart-breaking book.’

Listen to Irenosen’s episode in full here. For plenty more reading inspiration from guests including Maggie O’Farrell, Motsi Mabuse and Adjoa Andoh, have a look through the Women’s Prize podcast archives – and don’t forget to hit subscribe!

The Women's Prize Podcast

Tune into host Vick Hope and a line-up of incredible guests on our weekly podcast full of unmissable book recommendations.