Nnedi 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 Windseeker, The 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.
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.
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 Goldberg. Kabu 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