We are hunting the demons that haunt others. We get a smell and off we go. And you know why, Sunil? You know why we are so good at hunting the demons of others? Because we are so good, gifted even, at stalking and evading our own. But all demons hunters think that they are really heroes, and you know what all heroes need?
I think that those of us who are ordinary disappear easily into the backdrop of life and we take things for granted. We often wake up in our lives and wonder how we got there. But the characters I create, the people I am drawn to, are quite extraordinary (and not always in wholesome ways), and they offer us the chance to understand who we really are and how we became who we are.
The greatest thing about form and convention is that it saves you from having to reinvent the wheel. Now, whether you mount the wheel to a horse carriage or a Formula One racing car, make it plain or give it spinning rims, those are all craft decisions. But the fact of the wheel remains: it will turn if you set it down. That's what I mean about the beauty of the gifts genre can offer.
My mom taught me to read when I was two or three. When I was five I read and wrote well enough to do my nine-year older brother's homework in exchange for chocolate or cigarettes. By the time I was 10, I was reading Orwell, Tolstoy's War and Peace, and the Koran. I was reading comic books too.
All power within the microcosm of my world was held and wielded by people who look like me. Plus, I think Nigerians all have this sense that they are better than everyone, including white people. So I have the privilege of a certain distance. It may just be that. So in a sense, I can't claim that as any ability that I have, simply a matter of circumstance.
The Igbo used to say that they built their own gods. They would come together as a community, and they would express a wish. And their wish would then be brought to a priest, who would find a ritual object, and the appropriate sacrifices would be made, and the shrine would be built for the god.
Sometimes we say we want an end to hate or racism or sexism. But we all participate in keeping these structures alive. If everyone decided to relinquish the past what would happen to people who feel that there hasn't been proper atonement made to them? And what happens to the person who feels that the constant atonement is their identity?
The truth is, everything we know about America, everything Americans come to know about being American, isn't from the news. I live there. We don't go home at the end of the day and think, "Well, I really know who I am now because the Wall Street Journal says that the Stock Exchange closed at this many points." What we know about how to be who we are comes from stories. It comes from the novels, the movies, the fashion magazines. It comes from popular culture.
Since I hold no judgments against my characters, no matter how heinous they might seem, I present them as real people with their own moral centers. We might feel those moral centers are mis-calibrated, but they are there and are the rudders that propel them. This makes reading my work a visceral roller coaster, 'cause the reader must embark on the journey of the protagonist equipped only with his or her own moral center.
If you encounter a human shadow burned permanently into the concrete in Hiroshima, you realize that this is the trace of a very ordinary person now elevated into the emblematic. Time, shame, complicity, or discomfort are the only things that make us pretend History is impersonal or far removed from the power and consequences of our every lived moment.
Unlike other books or TV shows or sometimes life, my narrative worlds are stripped of implicit moral centers. There is only what you bring. That makes the characters risky in every way and the narrative, a journey of change for the reader. But I make the journey as fun as I can.
I have not spoken in three years: not since I left boot camp. It has been three years of a senseless war, and though the reasons for it are clear, and though we will continue to fight until we are ordered to stop--and probably for a while after that--none of us can remember the hate that led us here. We are simply fighting to survive the war. It is a strange place to be at fifteen, bereft of hope and very nearly of your humanity. But that is where I am nonetheless.
Love is at once the most creative and yet simultaneously destructive force in the world, and thus, in our lives. And I don't mean the Hallmark sentimental type of love, although that is part of it. But a deeper obligation that we have to each other: the obligation to reflect our humanness at each other, to reflect back the things others show us and we, them.
The Internet is really our meeting place. We have this amazing listserv. Every time I log onto it I feel a sense of pride, because if you log on and say, "Oh I was just in San Diego and I was in a park and I saw a lion," the flurry of replies on average is just like--wow! All these existential questions about what it means to be an African, and never having seen a lion at home, but having seen a lion here. Everything you say turns into this real philosophical debate--it's incredible in so many ways. And it's... Read more »
Nigerians are everywhere. There's an old joke, particularly about the Ibos, that when you finally land on Mars, you're going to find a Nigerian there who has a shop that is selling Coca-Cola--who took a speculative trip 20 years ago and has been waiting for everyone else to arrive.
Fiction is more dangerous than nonfiction because it can seduce better. I think we all know this, know that deeper truths can be approached in fiction than in fact. There are risks for the reader, because after reading certain books you find you have changed irreversibly. There are risks for writers: in China, now, and Ethiopia and other countries right now, writers face real persecution.
My search is always to find ways to chronicle, to share and to document stories about people, just everyday people. Stories that offer transformation, that lean into transcendence, but that are never sentimental, that never look away from the darkest things about us.