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A writer-to-writer talk: Unoma Azuah converses with Chika Unigwe

By Unoma Azuah

Unoma Azuah and Chika Unigwe are two Nigerian contemporary writers that have through their works attracted international and local attentions. The two  writers, who both graduated from the Department of English, University of Nigeria, Nsukka have been very prolific in their writing and have consistently used their Diaspora experiences to comment on contemporary life and debates. In this conversation, Azuah, who last year presented his latest narrative Offering, Edible Bones engages Unigwe, who just released to the reading public her much anticipated novel, Night Dancer.

Unoma Azuah: New books sometimes come with a feeling of burden and joy. Burden in the sense that the writer may be anxious about how the world receives the book and joy in the sense that the writer has finally seen the light of day I felt the same way with Edible Bones. How do you describe how you feel now concerning your latest novel: Night Dancer?

Chika Unigwe: I finished writing “Night Dancer” a while ago and have since then started work on another manuscript. It’s a relief to have it out, but because I am busy with something else, my attention is no longer fully on Night Dancer. Of course one always hopes for good reviews and so far I’ve been very lucky. It’s been received enthusiastically

UA: Well done. So, when can the Nigerian audience hold this latest baby?

CU: When it finds a Nigerian home. Any Nigerian publisher who is willing to publish it is free to make an offer via my agent. Alternatively, any book store that wants to stock it is also free to contact my publishers. It will give me no greater joy than to have it out in Nigeria

UA: Wonderful! Can you give us a peek? Tell us a little bit about “Night Dancer.”

CU: “Night Dancer” is about sacrifice, about love, about acceptance. It is also about how women negotiate patriarchal spaces. My works in recent years have been influenced by Obioma Nnaemeka’s Negofeminism (no ego feminism and feminism of negotiation).  It is also the story of a relationship between a mother and a daughter

UA: Interesting! If I am not mistaken, most of your novels have focused on issues regarding women. Are you not concerned about being tagged “extra feminist or even to an extreme, one dimensional?

CU: I am interested in writing stories that come to me. I don’t sit down and plan my writing.

I’ve never really worried about how others might perceive my writing that’ll be too calculated and stifle my creativity

UA: That a good number of your stories focus on women is mostly co-incidental and not deliberate?

CU: Certainly not calculated

UA: Ok. I tend to be careful when I try to give a synopsis of my new books because I wouldn’t want to give away the “gist” of the story. I feel you just did the same with your summary of “Night Dancer.”  Can we get some specifics or a little more detail about especially the protagonist?

CU: I haven’t re-read “Night Dancer” since I wrote it so my details might be sketchy. Mma is 20 plus, lives in Enugu and has just lost her mother with whom she had an uncomfortable relationship. But going through the letters her mother leaves behind for her, she comes to realize that she never really knew her mother.

UA: I see. Soundings quite engaging. Back to Obioma Nnaemeka’s Negofeminism, it sounds very much like Womanism. As a radical feminist myself, I believe that I can negotiate with men for instance in contested spaces, but when it comes to personal and to a large extent social spaces, I may choose not to negotiate. That may be neither here nor there but I am interested in knowing more about what intrigues you about Negofeminism?

CU: understands that for some women, a radical break with their culture, even if it’s patriarchal, is not possible for so many different reasons. A woman for example in one of my stories who cannot leave her domineering husband because her culture frowns upon women walking out on their husbands, finds a way of getting her own back without him even realizing it.

She remains in that space but she manipulates it. What intrigues me about negofeminism? It is a much more realistic way for many African women to fight back African cultures that see men and women as more complementary then rivals. So the ‘fight’ is usually subtle. Let me reformulate that: the ‘fight’ has to be subtle. Negofeminism recognizes this.

UA: That makes sense. At the risk of sounding like a broken record Negofeminism is the theory that drives your novel “Night Dancer?

CU: Negofeminism has influenced me a lot. I am constantly thinking of ways in which women in certain cultures deal with certain things. And what life is like for those who choose to break the boundaries. Maybe in that way, “Night Dancer” is a post nego-feminist novel. I don’t know.

UA: I guess we’ll find out for ourselves. Now you are already working on another project. Is another novel? And where do you get the energy from? You’re becoming quite prolific?

CU : Yes, it’s a novel. I drink lots of chocolate milk with powdered milk to get the energy.

UA: At the moment, I am on some tour of sorts, trying to promote my latest novel, Edible Bones. Now whether or not we get to see the Nigerian edition of your latest novel, “Night Dancer,” can some reading tour of sorts take place in Nigeria? That is, would it be possible for you to have a reading tour of Nigeria with “Night Dancer?

CU : if I am invited, and I have some free time I’d love to.

UA: What might your newest project be about?

CU: The protagonist of the novel I am working on at the moment is called Equiano. The story of Oluadah Equiano has always fascinated me right from the very first day I heard about it.

UA: What fresh angel are you bringing to Equiano?

CU: The novel takes a look at his personal life. I am not very good at talking about work in progress.

UA: That’s good enough. What’s your impression of up-coming Nigerian writers?

CU: There is so much talent in Nigeria. I’ve read some really good stories from writers in Nigeria.  For instance, I enjoyed Eghosa Imasuen’s new novel, “Fine Boys” and I am looking forward to Igoni Barrett’s collection.

UA: Any last words?

CU: I love that I can make a career out of my hobby and I am grateful for the interest.

UA : Congratulations on the release of “Night Dancer,” all the best with your novel in progress and thank you for your time.

CU : You’re welcome and thank you!


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