“Forna’s ruminations are deeply felt yet unsentimental....[her] window-seat view is that of a ‘light sleeper’ and ‘lucid dreamer,’ whose wide-ranging subjects chart a path toward a kind of freedom, to be at home, always elsewhere.”

-New York Times

Aminatta Forna is an award winning writer. Through fiction and non-fiction she has examined the effects of war and trauma. Formerly a journalist for BBC TV, her first book, The Devil that Danced on the Water, was an investigation into the murder of her father, a political activist and Amnesty Prisoner of Conscience, in Sierra Leone in the 1970's. There followed three novels, including the multi award winning and bestselling The Memory of Love. A firm believer in the resilience of the human spirit, Aminatta's last novel is titled, Happiness.

Born in Scotland to a Scottish mother and West African father, Aminatta's childhood was spent moving between worlds and even included spells in Iran and Thailand.  She first came to the United States as a Harkness Fellow at the University of California at Berkeley in 1996. Aminatta is widely traveled and her boundary-crossing life provides the context for her understanding of history, culture and politics. Her adventures are the subject of her most recent book, an essay collection, The Window Seat. 

Aminatta is Director the Lannan Center at Georgetown University, holds a professorship at Bath Spa University in the UK and previously held the post of Sterling Brown Visiting Professor at Williams College, Massachusetts.

The recipient of a Windham Campbell Award from Yale University, Aminatta has won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book Award, the Hurston Wright Legacy Award, the Liberaturpreis in Germany and the Aidoo-Snyder Book Prize and been a finalist for the Neustadt Prize for Literature (widely regarded as the most prestigious international literary award after the Nobel).

Aminatta has been a keynote speaker at the universities of Columbia, New York, Yale, Georgetown, Kennesaw and Vassar and Macalester colleges, as well at literary festival in Stockholm, Vienna, Johannesburg and  The Hague.

Aminatta has written and presented television documentaries including “The Lost Libraries of Timbuktu” (BBC Television, 2009) and “Girl Rising” (CNN, 2013). She is a frequent contributor to BBC radio arts and current affairs programs.

Her essays have appeared in Freeman’s, Granta, The Guardian, LitHub, The Nation, The New York Review of Books and Vogue.

Aminatta Forna is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was made OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours 2017.

Speech topics

The Resilient Spirit

In 2018 Aminatta recorded a PBS segment on trauma which caused people to approach her in public, stop her in the street and write her emails and letters. One mother told her that she had recorded the segment and given it to her daughter to play whenever she was struggling. With experience founded in war and conflict, Aminatta Forna contends that the word ‘trauma’ has become overused. 'Trauma’ and ‘suffering’ have come to be used interchangeably, and both equated with lifelong damage. In this talk Aminatta examines the antecedents of why this has happened from early diagnoses of PTSD  to a modern legal system which pushes the idea of' damage,' to the notion of 'looping.' Some people do experience trauma, but for many of us, framing experiences as 'traumatic' can become a self-fulfilling narrative. Rather we need to accept and to remind our children that painful experiences are an unavoidable part of being alive. After all, what would a life free of anguish actually look like? The great irony of human existence is that what makes it worth living rarely comes smelling of roses.

The Power of Storytelling

Watch a person listen to a story:  they blink faster, their heart speeds up, and their expressions shift in response to the words. Stories are implanted in our brains.  From the very earliest, stories are our entryway to the world. Our identities and sense of who we are in the world is derived from the stories told to us as children by our parents, framed by the folk tales, myths and legends constructed by the society we live in. Stories help us remember lessons, warnings, places, periods and people.

Stories are a vital part of our world outlook, how we respond to opportunities, challenges and setbacks. Narratives of strengths create strength and narratives of victimhood or martyrdom have the opposite effect. Stories also create empathy. Stories are the foundation stones of our identities.  Understanding the power of stories is key to understanding why people think and react they way they do. And yet stories, nuanced and complex, are rapidly becoming a countercultural medium against a fraught and fast-paced information age.


The Window Seat: Notes from a Life in Motion

A stunning new collection of essays from the award-winning author of Happiness, The Window Seat explores border crossings both literal and philosophical, our relationship with the natural world, and the stories that we tell ourselves.

Happiness: A Novel

“Throughout Happiness, Forna stops in our tracks . . . Reminiscent at times of Michael Ondaatje’s novel Anil’s Ghost . . . Happiness is a meditation on grand themes: Love and death, man and nature, cruelty and mercy. But Forna folds this weighty matter into her buoyant creation with a sublimely delicate touch.”―Washington Post

The Devil That Danced on the Water: A Daughter's Quest

As a child, Aminatta Forna was witness to the political upheaval and social unrest of post-colonial Africa. Forced to flee her home for exile in Britain, she was subject to the consequences of her dissident father’s actions.

The Hired Man: A Novel

An award-winning Scottish and Sierra Leonean novelist “brilliantly portrays the atmosphere” of Croatia in this haunting tale of war, history, and secrets (The Guardian).

The Memory of Love

“[A] luminous tale of passion and betrayal” set in the post-colonial and civil war eras of Sierra Leone." —The New York Times 

Ancestor Stones: A Novel

From the award-winning author: A “wonderfully ambitious” novel of West Africa, told through the struggles and dreams of four extraordinary women (The Guardian).

Request booking info