“I am a realist. I write fiction that is as close to ‘life’ as possible” – Interview with Arinze Ifeakandu
Ifeakandu is one of the five writers shortlisted for the 2017 Caine Prize for African writing, arguably the biggest competitive literary award on the continent. With his story, “God’s Children Are Little Broken Things”, he became the second-youngest person ever to achieve such a feat at age 22.
He is an alumnus of the 2013 Farafina Creative Trust Workshop. Prolific in his diversity, he was also a 2015 BN Poetry Award finalist. In this talk, he speaks to us about his background, literary style and influences.
KD: Who is Arinze Ifeakandu?
Arinze: He is a guy who over-thinks things, so much that his best friend calls him Mr Sensitive, just to shut him up.
KD: Why do you write, and what audience do you put in mind?
Arinze: I write because I really enjoy doing it. It gives me great pleasure to write. I do not have an audience in mind when I write.
Photo accessed via Facebook
KD: What impact has being on the CainePrize Award shortlist brought to you (and your writing)?
Arinze: It has exposed my story to a new audience, a ‘home’ audience. The story was published by the US-based A Public Space magazine, and so it pleases me that Africans, Nigerians, are getting to read it now.
KD: When did you start writing and how?
Arinze: My entanglement with writing began very early in my life. My siblings and childhood friends used to enjoy the stories I told when we were all young. When I learnt how to read I became such an obsessed reader, infringing on people’s privacy by reading letters and texts that were not meant for me, and so it seemed only natural that I soon began writing the stories I used to tell.
KD: What informed your choice of the story you submitted?
Arinze: When I was writing the story—I wrote it in 2014 and it won me an Emerging Writer fellowship in 2015—I did not have the Caine Prize in mind. I did not have any prize in mind, for that matter. So it was not written to be ‘submitted’. I cannot say so much that I chose the story as much as that the story followed me wherever I went, and I had no choice but to write it.
You can follow this link to view the full list of the nominees and also get an access to the published story that got Arinze shortlisted for the prestigious Caine Prize Award.
“I am a realist. I write fiction that is as close to ‘life’ as possible, although the matter of what is ‘real’ remains a question.”
KD: Mentors/influences/writers you admire
Arinze: I adore Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She is everything that I believe a writer should be; the clarity with which she delivers deep and often complex thought, that is phenomenal. Buchi Emecheta, I love, because of The Joys of Motherhood, the first book that awakened something in me that has yet to go to sleep.
KD: How would you describe your writing style?
Arinze: I am a realist. I write fiction that is as close to ‘life’ as possible, although the matter of what is ‘real’ remains a question.
Arinze Ifekandu, one of the five writers shortlisted for the 2017 Caine Prize for African writing.
Photograph accessed via Facebook
KD: Reclaiming one’s own body is a recurrent motif in the short storyGod’s Children are Little Broken Things. Could you briefly comment on this?
Arinze: Ah! I’m not sure I want to become a chief critic of my own story. There are certain bodies in this world, in my country Nigeria, that have been designated unholy, unacceptable. But was it not God himself who reprimanded Peter: How can you call what I created unclean? LGBT people in this country are faced with so much violence in this country, and even though the story does not deal directly with violence, we sense the struggle the major characters go through in situating themselves properly, in loving without shame or fear, in a space that is hostile towards them.
KD: What is the most attractive thing about fiction that makes you keep writing?
Arinze: The fact that I can be lost for hours and hours and forget about the morbid exercise of living.