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Nnedi Okorafor Interview

Nnedi OkoraforAcclaimed author Nnedi Okorafor was kind enough take some time to answer some questions for us about her books and worldbuilding. Her stories are a panorama of rich imagery and the whole dynamic range of emotions intermeshed with delightfully twisty plots. As I am good at writing none of these things, I thought it would be awesome to get her perspective on it.

Both Who Fears Death and Akata Witch feature groups of friends around the main characters of Onye and Sunny, all of whom are very different from each other. How do you work out the social dynamics within the group?

I don’t think about the social dynamics at all. When I’m writing, I’m seeing and watching and hearing my characters interact. I see my characters as real people and they interact with each other the way they choose interact with each other. It’s not something I map out or outline or spend much time planning.

Who Fears Death (cover)You write a wide breadth of speculative fiction, mixing modern and older viewpoints and systems of thinking. What do you find is the hardest aspect of blending the two together in a story?

I’m not blending anything together, really. My stories just come out this way. Much of this has to do with the fact that I come from a hybrid background that is influenced by multiple cultures. I also think this organic form reflects my own beliefs about technology, spirituality and general worldview.

Conflict can be brutal and your stories often reflect this without romanticizing it, presenting them as upheavals and the worst as horrors to be survived. Since much violence and mayhem is often glorified, how do you avoid doing so?

I look at the issue head on. I don’t allow myself to flinch or look away. I don’t apologize and I face my own privileges, fears and short comings. In this way I can step into these moments and live them through my characters. Also, it certainly helps that I have a very active and powerful imagination.

When I write graphically violent scenes like the ones in Who Fears Death and in the Kabu Kabu short story “The Black Stain”, I suffer. It’s not fun or remotely exhilarating. It’s awful. I weep and feel ill as I write, then I have nightmares. During the times where I’m writing these scenes, the world becomes scary and terrible (Mind you, my default setting is happy and cheery. Thus these times are especially hard on me). So, it’s not likely that I’ll write gratuitous or glorified violence. I write it only when I have to.

Akata Witch (cover)Just as much as violence in its myriad forms is a part of your books, so too is love and friendship and it can make for an emotional roller coaster for the readers and the characters. How do you balance it all out?

To me, life is full of light and dark and the many many shades in between. And life is an emotional roller coaster. I don’t know if I balance out love and horror in my books as much as I seek to make sure the character’s life is truly full.

You present the various cultures in your stories in a measured, thoughtful way, with much attention paid to the people within them and how those cultures deal with the exceptional. What’s your thought process to deal with all of the generational and gender differences between your character interactions?

I mine a lot from my own life. And being Nigerian, I have direct access to a lot of the points of view I’m writing about. I infuse my stories with them. These issues are not something I really need to study or think that hard about because I’ve lived and lived around so much of them. For example, in Who Fears Death and Akata Witch, most of the gender, generational and non-violent cultural issues were issues I just plucked from my own experiences or those of relatives or family friends.

Lagoon (cover)Your anthology of short stories, Kabu, Kabu just came out and I’ve been enjoying them immensely. What are your next projects for readers to look forward to?

My next novel will be Lagoon, an alien invasion science fiction narrative set in the city of Lagos, Nigeria. It’ll be released by Hodder and Stoughton in April 8, 2014. Also, I’ve finished writing Akata Witch 2: Breaking Kola and it’s currently in the editing process. That’s scheduled to be released in 2015 by Penguin Books.

I will certainly be reading and enjoying them as I loved Akata Witch and would rate it as my favorite read of the year. Thank you so much!

You can learn more about Nnedi Okorafor and her stories on her website or you can follow her on Twitter. Her newest novel Lagoon is due out April 8, 2014 in the US and April 10, 2014 in the UK.

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