Namwali Serpell-Biography, Age, State of Origin

Biography Namwali Serpell

Carla Namwali Serpell (born 1980) is an American and Zambian  writer who teaches in the United States. In April 2014, she was named on Hay Festival’s Africa39 list of 39 Sub-Saharan African writers aged under 40 with the potential and talent to define trends in African literature.  Her short story “The Sack” won the 2015 Caine Prize for African fiction in English. In 2020, Serpell won the Belles-lettres category Grand Prix of Literary Associations 2019 for her debut novel The Old Drift. 


Early years and education 

Serpell was born in 1980 in Lusaka, Zambia, to Robert Serpell and his wife, Namposya Nampanya Serpell. Her British-Zambian father is a professor of psychology at the University of Zambia, and her mother was an economist. When she was nine, her family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, in the United States, where Serpell was educated. She completed her undergraduate degree in literature at Yale and her doctorate (PhD) in American and British fiction at Harvard. Serpell became an American citizen in 2017. 


Serpell is a professor of English at Harvard University.  From 2008 to 2020, she was a professor of English at University of California, Berkeley. She resides in the United States and visits Lusaka annually. 

Serpell’s short story “Muzungu” was shortlisted in 2010 for the Caine Prize, an annual award for African short fiction in English. In 2011, she received the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a prize for beginning women writers. Her story “The Sack” won the Caine Prize in 2015. Saying “fiction is not a competitive sport”, Serpell announced she would share the $15,000 prize with the other shortlisted writers, Masande Ntshanga, F. T. Kola, Elnathan John, and Segun Afolabi.  She was the first Caine winner from Zambia. The “sack” of the title, according to Serpell, derives from a terrifying dream she had at 17, “and I didn’t know if I was on the inside or the outside”. It also has political implications: “I was studying American and British fiction, and [another graduate student] was studying African contemporary fiction, and her theory was that any time you saw a sack in African literature, it was a hidden reference to the transatlantic slave trade. I was kind of writing my story against that.


  • The Ethics of Uncertainty: Reading Twentieth-century American Literature, PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 2008, ISBN 9780549617112
  • Seven Modes of Uncertainty, Harvard University Press, 2014, ISBN 978-0-674-72909-4
  • Stranger Faces – Undelivered Lectures Series, 2020,978-1-945492-43-3 (paperback), 978-1945492-47-1 (ebook).


  • The Old Drift, Hogarth Press, 2019, ISBN 9781101907146
  • The Furrows, Hogarth Press, 2022, ISBN 9780593448915



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