Chinelo Okparanta was born in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her short story, “America”, is featured in this quarter’s edition of Granta Magazine – Exit Strategies. She tells us, here, about her aversion to public speaking, the possible buttock-enhancing effects of a writing career, and her unwillingness to be influenced by Chimamanda Adichie.
Which of your major characters would you like to be trapped on a desert island with?
Nnenna Etoniru. (The lead character in her short story, “America”) She is a very brave woman. I am a fan of bravery.
What is the first thing you remember writing?
I don’t have very early memories of writing. The earliest one I can think of was an essay entitled “Justice for All.” I remember that in it I discussed several different types of abuse: physical, emotional, verbal, etc. I must have been ten at the time, and I must have written things long before that, but somehow I’ve lost all memory of what those things might have been.
Where/when or with whom have you been most impressed to see a copy of your work?
The Granta cover for “America”
In GRANTA, the magazine of new writing.
What one book by another author do you wish you’d written?
The Land of Spices by Kate O’Brien. It is a quiet story, and gorgeously told.
Name one author that you consider overrated.
Writing is hard work, so I’d hate to consider any authors overrated. And being that I’m not the most avid reader of all, perhaps I’m not even qualified to answer this question
Achebe or Soyinka?
Achebe for his fiction. Soyinka for his poetry.
Sell a million copies or win the Nobel Prize for literature?
Ideally, both. Not to be greedy, or anything
Write one classic or have a sustained career of good books?
Best perk of being a writer?
Hearing someone tell you how much such and such in the story moved them. Sometimes it’s a much-needed reminder that what I have to say matters.
Worst thing about being a writer?
Some days I can literally feel my bum expanding from too much sitting.
Also, I’ve never seen myself as much of a public speaker/figure. When I began writing, it never really occurred to me that I would be asked to attend public events, or that people would be interested in me outside of the work I had written. Of course, I should have known. You see authors in that role all the time. So maybe it was just something I conveniently neglected to think about. In any case, I like the peace and quiet of my own home, and I have a lot of anxiety where public life and public speaking are concerned. So, this would have to be the worst thing about being a writer for me. Of course, I’m learning to manage
Remember your best and worst reviews? Let’s hear them.
Best: She’s such an amazing talent and perfect crafter of sentences. I could read her grocery list and still be satisfied.
Worst: I’m worried some readers might drop off along the way
If you could exchange your writing for another creative talent what would it be?
Playing the guitar or the violin.
On a scale of one to five, how much would you say the characters in your books are based on real people? Could you give an example?
One. Maybe two.
Nnenna, for example, knows, like I do, what it is to live with a sort of love that is forbidden, condemned. But of course, the rest is fiction.
What book are you ashamed to admit that you haven’t read?
There are many, but one is Chimamanda Adichie’s Half of A Yellow Sun. I purposefully did not read it because I did not want to be influenced by her writing (I was myself working on a novel with a Biafran theme). I will likely read it in the near future, once my novel is complete.
What is your guilty reading?
I don’t generally have guilt associated with anything I read.
What’s the most challenging part of your creative process?
I can be impatient sometimes. Often I have to remind myself to slow down and immerse myself in the scene or story that I’m writing.
And the most pleasurable?
That feeling of accomplishment I get when I see that I have finally written exactly that which I set out to write.
What are you likely to be most critical about in other authors’ work?
Overly decorative language. Especially where the language is ornate at the expense of emotional truth.
If you could bring something back from the past what would it be?
Village life. While I do well with contemporary life, I’m not sure that it, with all its modern amenities, with all the technological advances that come with it, suits me well. It gets overwhelming sometimes.
Well, I have a short story collection and a novel scheduled to come out in the future. There’s still editing to be done with those. In addition, I’m working on a new novel. This new novel will have a lot of village living in it. And I believe it will be wonderful as a result.
Read Chinelo’s new short story Runs Girl