Monthly Archives: December 2012

Author Q&A: Nnedi Okorafor

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nnedi1Nnedi Okorafor is an American author of Nigerian origin, who is widely acclaimed for her contributions to the fantasy and science fiction genres. Often compared with JK Rowling, Nnedi consistently churns out spectacular titles such as Zahrah the Windseeker, The Shadow Speaker, Who Fears Death and Akata Witch among others; and has been a recipient of several awards including the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. Despite having enough new fantastical adventures to put to paper, Nnedi takes out time to chat with us about being border-line dyslexic as a child, having Whoopi Goldberg in her new book, and how she considers many classics to be thoroughly unpleasant.

Which of your child characters is most closely modeled after your own young self? And in what way?

I’d have to say Sunny from Akata Witch. She’s an excellent athlete (I played semi-pro tennis from the ages of 9-19, and won a lot of medals in track and field), she loves ballet (I love ballet and used to dance it when I was kid). When she’s forced to fight, she’ll fight and WIN or at least bring someone down with her if she loses. And she lives between multiple cultural worlds.

What is the first thing you remember writing?

Creatively? That’s easy because I didn’t start writing creatively until I was twenty years old; I was a sophomore at the University of Illinois, U-C. It was short story called “The House of Deformities”. The story was based on an actual event in my life that happened in the 80s and it was set in Nigeria.

What one book by another author do you wish you’d written?

I don’t wish to write anything but what I write. I can thoroughly enjoy other people’s work without wanting to take it as my own.

What do you consider to be your greatest literary achievement till date?

To me, everything is connected. I don’t see one piece as greater than the others. The small things that lead to and inspire the big things. And the big things lead back to the small things.

Many, if not all, of your books belong in fantasy genre. Why the fascination with the metaphysical?

Actually, I write both science fiction and fantasy. Zahrah the WindseekerThe Shadow Speaker and Who Fears Death are blends of fantasy and science fiction. That said, the mystical and the magic in my work come from the way I naturally see the world. I see the world as a magical place. My stories are a reflection of my own way of seeing. From the very first story I wrote, it has always been this way. I’ve written memoir pieces (including a full yet to be published book) and even in those works, there are magical elements.

Sell a million copies or win the Nobel Prize for literature?

Win the Nobel. But you have to sell a lot of books to even be noticed and then considered, so these two things are connected.

Write one classic or have a sustained career of good books?

The latter. But I’d like to see my sustained career become “the classic”. Even now, for me, it’s not about just one book. Each book adds to the greater picture I’m trying to present.

zahrahHave you written, or do you plan to write, a book not targeted at children and young adults?

I already have and that book is my most known novel, Who Fears Death. I started out writing adult stories and novels. The YA novels just happened to be the ones that sold first. I’m a YA and adult writer.

Best perk of being a writer?

Having a place to pour it all out (positive or negative) and then being able to create something with it. Really, it’s the same perk that all artists get. Also, having your work be more known to fans than your own face is cool.

Rate yourself on a scale of one to five for spelling/punctuation.

Spelling- 1. I am a terrible speller and I’ve always been that way. Words become nonsense when I look at them for too long. My kindergarten teachers thought I might be border-line dyslexic. But like when I’m typing, if I shut my eyes and don’t focus too hard, I have no problem.

Punctuation- 5. I’ve never had a problem with punctuation. Punctuation equals clarity; I like being clear.

What book are you ashamed to admit that you haven’t read?

There is no such thing for me. Reading isn’t an ego thing. If I haven’t read it, I’ll say I haven’t read it. No one’s read it all. And a lot of so-called classics are thoroughly unpleasant reads and thus best skipped.

What is your guilty reading?

The Disney Fairy chapter books. I was reading them before I was contracted to write one. They’re fun! They are like reading cartoons and I love cartoons.

What are you likely to be most critical about in other authors’ work?

If a story is boring. I cannot stand boring stories.

If you could bring something from your writing to life what would it be?

The capture station in Who Fears Death that pulls condensation from the sky to creature pure drinking water without giving off any pollution. It’s portable and cheap, too. It’s perfect for nations suffering from a lack of clean drinking water. I’d also like to have my own wasp artist.

What’s next?

Plenty. My compilation of short stories, titled Kabu Kabu, will be released in 2013. It’ll be published by Prime Books. This will include several brand new short stories and a brand new novella that I wrote with New York Times Bestselling author Alan Dean Foster. It’ll also include a brief forward written by Whoopi GoldbergKabu Kabu is an adult book.

In the young adult arena, my novel Akata Witch will be published in Nigeria by Cassava Republic next year (under a new title: What Sunny Saw in the Flames). I’ve also just completed the first draft of the sequel to Akata Witch, titled Breaking Kola. This was will be published by Penguin Books and will be released in 2013

Read others in the Author Q&A Series

Author Q&A Series: Chibundu Onuzo

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chibundu2Chibundu Onuzo is the author of The Spider King’s Daughter. The novel, published in 2012, is her debut, and the first instalment of a two-book deal signed with British publishers, Faber and Faber. Born in Nigeria, Chibundu moved to the UK some years ago, and has recently completed a history degree in King’s College, London. She started writing The Spider King’s daughter at age 17, and was the youngest writer to be signed by her publishers . The now 21 year old author tells of (false?) recollections of life as an infant, her review-specific amnesia, and how an author’s death might be a good thing for a book.

Which of your major characters would you like to be trapped on a desert island with?

Aunty Precious. She’d cook and I’d signal for ships.

What’s your earliest memory?

A pram race between my brother and my aunt. My cousin was in one pram and I was in the other. No-one in my family believes I remember this.

Where, when or with whom have you been most impressed to see a copy of your work?

I saw a copy at Pataba book shop in Yaba which was very exciting because I didn’t know it was on sale anywhere in Nigeria.

Sell a million copies or win the Nobel Prize for literature?

Nobel because then it’d help me sell a million copies. Two birds with one stone.

Write one classic or have a sustained career of good books?

You can have both. Classics are usually not counted as such until you’re dead or at least well into the twilight of your career. Moby Dick is an excellent example. So you might have what you think is only a sustained career of good books but posterity may judge one or more as classics.

Best perk of being a writer?

Free books.

Worst thing about being a writer?

Some people think you sit at home all day doing nothing.

chibundu 2Remember your best and worst reviews? Let’s hear them.

I suffer from amnesia when it comes to these things.

One thing you wish you’d known starting out as an author?

Publishing takes forever.

Besides good writing what other skill do you think is essential to a successful career in writing?

Good writing is actually not essential to success, at least not in pecuniary terms.

Rate yourself on a scale of one to five for spelling/punctuation.

3.5: I’m quite bad with words like of and off, unto and onto, to and too, see and sea. Homophone is the First Aid term for words like these.

What do you think your writing owes your readers?

I don’t want my fiction to dull them.

What word or phrase, if any, do you overuse in your writing?

Onto.

What is your favourite quote from literature?

Those that know their God shall be strong and do exploits.

What personal experience of yours has turned up the most in your writing

None. My life is pretty sedate and in my fiction, I am attracted to drama. I blame my Lagos upbringing.

If you were to award a prize for a Nigerian novel published within the last ten years what book would it go to?

Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta. It’s not the only notable novel by a Nigerian author in the last ten years but, in my opinion, it’s the most overlooked.

Write a paragraph describing yourself in the third person.

I charge for descriptions. That’s how I make a living.

What one person was most supportive of your writing ambition?

My father, my mother and my sister. The first two are one via marriage and the last came from their union so you can take them all as the same person.

What’s the most memorable casual reader feedback you’ve received on your writing?

‘I didn’t know hawkers had ambitions.’ I quote verbatim.

What is your guilty reading?

I read the Hunger Games trilogy. Every single book.  Entirely guilt free but I have been judged.

What’s the most challenging part of your creative process?

It depends. Sometimes I find writing a completely new scene very challenging. Sometimes it flows.

And the most pleasurable?

Reading over a scene I like.

What are you likely to be most critical about in other authors’ work?

When there is plot but no finesse.

How do you motivate yourself after a manuscript rejection?

I’ve been quite fortunate in my manuscript to rejection ratio. I’ve only had two. The first one was when I was fifteen for a collection of short stories. I kept the slip of paper for posterity (which I have now lost.) I stopped writing for a bit and then started again. The young  prove elastic to failure. The second was from an agency in London for a first draft of my novel. I didn’t really have to motivate myself to do anything. I was waiting to hear back from my current agent, who incidentally replied with an acceptance exactly a week later.

Tell us your literary process – from conception to first draft.

I don’t plan in the early stages. I start writing and then as the story comes to me, I jot directions the plot can move in. But usually, the story goes another way from what I envisioned at the start so plotting, in my case, is often pointless but makes me feel productive.

What is your ultimate motivation for writing?

Motivation is such a tricky thing to separate. Is my motivation for writing different from my motivation for wanting to be published? All I know is I like writing and it’s easier for me to work at it than to work at learning how to build bridges.

Do you think Africa is being fairly depicted by contemporary African writers? And is this portrayal something that should necessarily preoccupy writers?

I don’t know what a fair depiction of an African country would be. I don’t even know what a fair depiction of Lagos would be. Lekki or Mushin? V.I or Yaba? Everyone wants to see their own particular experience of a place portrayed. Hence we have the middle class fights back movement in African literature, challenging recurring perceptions of the continent that have arisen from a certain style of media coverage. I’m not overly concerned either way. Write what you like.

What one book would you advise everyone to read before they die, and why?

The Bible. You have the gospels which are like eating bread, easily digestible. Then you have Numbers which is like cauliflower. Man shall not live on bread alone.

If you could bring something back from the past what would it be?

My maternal grandfather who died before I was born. We just missed each other. I’ve read some of his letters and I think we were alike in many ways.

What’s next?

A second book that I’m working on.

Read others in the Author Q&A Series