Jekwu Anyaegbuna was shortlisted by novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for the Farafina Trust International Creative Writers’ Programme. A graduate of the University of Ilorin, he writes both poetry and prose; and his work has been widely published, or will be published, in literary journals in the United States and the UK. We interviewed him about his writing and the connections to Britain and the Commonwealth in his stories.
How much do you feel a connection in your stories to Britain and its Commonwealth ties?
Britain has become a Big Uncle with nieces and nephews scattered across the globe. One major connection is language. Uncle Britain has given a nephew like me the English language and expects the characters in my stories to speak English; if they don’t, one has to find an omniscient interpreter for Uncle Britain to understand, nod, smile or frown. And the characters are always happy that their fellow nephews and nieces in the Commonwealth are unified by this universal language. Although I don’t always set out to write a story that has a special connection to a particular set of people (I prefer a broader perspective), I discover that my characters struggle to find a balance between their own original worldview and that which they have acquired from slavery to colonialism to the Commonwealth.
Does having a global readership alter the way you approach writing stories?
Good fiction is immortal. Generations come and go, reading great literary works of the previous generations. Of course, readers are important in literature. Writers write because readers read. But I think it would be counterproductive for me to think too much about readers while producing a piece of fiction because the enjoyment of it varies from one person to another – and it’s impossible to satisfy everybody. But I know that a good work appeals to many people. Thinking about readership might result in a story that is unbelievable, stereotypical, a defective contraption because I am trying to tailor the story to suit a particular set of people, cultures and circumstances, forgetting that fiction is universal. This is prescriptive writing which stymies imagination and creates a technical loophole in the accessibility of the story by the generality of fiction fans. I try to write my stories to the best of my abilities, in the most natural way I can find within myself. Thinking excessively about readers’ responses could destroy the immortality and universality of fiction.
Is place, the landscape and language of where you’re from something that has a bearing on your writing voice?
To make my fiction believable, I have to write about what I know, with the voice I understand well, set somewhere I know. It might not work well for me to write about something I don’t know, although fiction puts no limit to my imagination. I don’t need to create doubts. So my background has a total grip on my writing. I had a rural upbringing, and sometimes this bears a lot of weight on my writing.