Aida Edemariam (Place Writing, 2023)Aida Edemariam. The Wife's Tale Book Cover

Aida Edemariam

Shortlisted in 2023 for Place Writing

Aida Edemariam began her writing life with book reviews and especially long profiles of major writers such as Alice Munro and Edward Albee, Mavis Gallant and Paula Fox — mini-biographies in which an immersion in a lifetime of work was the guiding principle. Her first book, a biography of her Ethiopian grandmother, took this approach and allied it to an immersion in time and especially in place: 1920s Ethiopia, then its 1935 invasion by fascist Italy, through Emperor Haile Selassie’s reign, the revolution, and into the present day. She visited the castles of her grandmother’s home city of Gondar, travelled on horseback to the rural churches in which her grandmother had worshipped, and conducted over 70 hours of interviews in order to attempt to place her grandmother in historical, social and psychological context as well as in physical space. 

The Wife’s Tale is influenced by writers such as Michael Ondaatje and Marina Warner, Colm Tóibín and E.A Wallis Budge. Structured according to the Ethiopian agricultural and Orthodox year, it is told in a free indirect third person and uses techniques — an occluded, deliberately female point of view; voice, characterisation — usually found in novels.  Shortlisted for a Governor General’s Literary Award in Canada, it won a Royal Society of Literature Jerwood Award and the RSL Ondaatje Prize in the UK; it has been taught on creative writing courses at the universities of Iowa, Newcastle, Stanford and Cambridge.   

“Edemariam anchors the book in these mundane rhythms, setting them against a vividly realized landscape…Political turmoil sweeps in like a dream…The book elegantly collapses the distance between the vast and the intimate, showing how history reaches even the most sheltered.” — The New Yorker 

Aida Edemariam has written for BBC Radio 3 (The Essay), the Times Literary Supplement, the New Statesman and Lingua Franca, among other publications, and her work has been collected in New Daughters of Africa, ed. Margaret Busby (Myriad / Hamish Hamilton); The Academic Novel: New and Classic Essays, ed. Merritt Moseley; and in an edition of Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News (HarperCollins). She has judged the International Booker Prize, is currently judging the David Cohen Prize for Literature, and is a senior feature writer and editor at the Guardian.