At the moment I am reading …
Carlos Fuentes's Destiny and Desire
Which writers do you admire, and why?
That’s a tough question to answer, given the very many writers I’ve encountered in a life devoted mostly to reading and writing. My aesthetic sensibilities were shaped by a childhood spent listening to folktales by moonlight in the village. That makes my grandmother the first ‘writer’ (storyteller) I knew and admired for taking me into the world of the tortoise and his endless tricks as a trickster figure. And we know that African oral tales operate beyond the limits of human imagination, always set in time beyond time. Hence, I tend to admire writers who possess an effortless capacity to take the story way beyond the imagined or even the imaginable. That makes D.O. Fagunwa in the Yoruba literary tradition the only writer whose novels I could re-read everyday for the rest of my life. Fagunwa borderless imagination prepared me for what I would encounter in the worlds of the masters I later came to admire: William Faulkner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabelle Allende, Reinaldo Arenas, and Jorge Amado. In Africa, I admire so many of my contemporaries for taking the story beyond the ideological and cultural rescue mission of the Soyinkas, Achebes, Ngugis and Kouroumas. I’m thinking here specifically of Lola Shoneyin, Chika Unigwe, Unoma Azuah, Chimamanda Adichie, Marie Ndiaye, Bessora, Abdourahman Ali Waberi, Chris Abani, Alain Mabanckou, and Kossi Effoui who are all writing Africa in truly wonderful new ways. My admiration for the writers in the French nouveau roman has not waned. It is borne out of my love for experimentation in narrative delivery. So, I can still be caught re-reading Marguerite Duras, Nathalie Sarraute, Claude Simon, Phillipe Sollers and Alain Robbe-Grillet. Alas, I have mentioned only novelists! My generation in Nigeria boasts many fine poets whose writing I admire a lot.
What, or who, inspired you to write this book?
I guess the stories finally burst out because they got tired of being carried around as prisoners in my head for so long! The attitude to creative non-fiction in Canada was also inspiring. That genre of prose hasn’t acquired sufficient significance in Africa. Creative non-fiction is a very big deal here in Canada. It generates a lot of excitement around here. I had stories ready to go and was fortunate enough to move to a country where the atmospherics of cultural production conduces to the genre that comes most naturally to me. Canada has been very inspiring in that sense. The more directly political commentary in the last part of the book was inspired by events in my country, Nigeria.
My earliest memory …
Playing street football with my peers in the village and being annoyingly summoned by my father – just when the game was ‘sweetest’! – to come and read some abridged children’s version of stories from Greek mythology he just discovered in the family library. I could not for the life of me understand why Jason and his fellow argonauts had the right to leave their abode in ancient Greek memory just to come and disturb the football game of five or six-year-olds in Africa.
What would you say is the most challenging part of writing?
Finding a satisfactory first paragraph has always been a major problem for me. Inspiration comes to me, often in the middle of the night, in very powerful bursts. I wake up powerless in her grip and rush to my computer. There the agony begins. The idea is there, impatiently struggling to burst out but I’m unable to come up with a photographic image of the first paragraph in my head. I never write unless I first have a photographic image of the text about to be born, paragraph by paragraph, in my head. That is why I sometimes suffer the pain of parturition when writing!
What was the most enjoyable aspect of writing this book?
I guess there is a click in your head that tells you at some point that you’ve finally found your voice in a particular genre. I enjoyed finding my voice in creative non-fiction tremendously. And being a medium for the expression of art through writing! What a privilege! I enjoyed that!
My favourite guilty pleasure …
I still watch Tom and Jerry! It inspires!
Is writing your full-time employment? If not, what is your ‘day job’?
My employer, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, describes my ‘day job’ as Associate Professor of English, French, and African Studies. Quite long but I am cross-appointed in all three academic units!
Which super-human power would you most like to have?
Replace my beautiful beer belly with a gym-toned, six-pack abdomen! That’s superhuman because I don’t see it happening!
What was your favourite book as a child?
I initially had two: The Children of the New Forest by Frederick Marryat and Tales from Shakespeare by Charles and Mary Lamb. Things Fall Apart was let in... eventually!