Portrait - Aguda

A few weeks ago, Pemi Aguda was shortlisted for the 2015 Writivism Short Story Prize, which resulted in her being invited to the Writivism Festival

The trip to Uganda quickly turned into a celebration when she came out the winner of the prize, thanks to her darkly humorous urban tale titled “Caterer, Caterer.” [Read HERE]

We are excited to officially introduce one of Africa’s new literary voices to you.

In the Q&A below, Aguda tells us about the creepy incident that inspired the winning story while also sharing various aspects of her life as a writer—having a 9-5, her sources of inspiration, and her favorite writer ever.

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Enjoy!

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Kudos for winning the 2015 Writivism Short Story Competition? How do you feel?

Thank you, Ainehi. I’m really happy my story was selected as winner – but even more pleased that I got to attend the Festival.

“Caterer, Caterer,” is a haunting little story with a very unexpected ending. How did you come up with the idea?

I didn’t. Or not mostly, anyway. There was something that happened in Soka of Ibadan (in Ogun State, Nigeria) last year where bodies in varying states of decomposition were found in a forest. They were discussing it on radio when a woman called in. She spoke about how these ritualists weren’t working only for politicians but for churches too. She then told a story of a friend of hers (it’s always a friend) who was a caterer and had been invited to cook human parts for a church ceremony. I found it odd that the church would tell her before she showed up; especially if they were interested in keeping it hush. And so a million ‘what-ifs’ popped up in my head and the story came from there.

The language you use is interesting. The English is slightly non-standard, but it’s not Pidgin English either. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

It is how we speak in Lagos, isn’t it? It’s English but not English – scrambled, if you will, with a sprinkling of Pidgin. Everyone I know relapses to this Nigerian English in every other sentence. It’s how we say “I’m coming” when we are going – to mean “I’ll be right back.” It’s in the way we say “they say…” when we are gossiping. I wanted the narrative to be as informal and flow-y as possible in a “come-and-see-what-happened-to-me-yesterday” way when you’re talking to a friend. But also in an introspective way, so that the narrator is working through how she feels about things as she tells you.

We would like to know you better. In what city do you live and write? Do you have a 9-to-5? How is the writing thing coming along? Do you see yourself taking it on full time?

I live in Lagos where I work as an architect. I would love to write full-time eventually. But there’s no hurry right now. I also enjoy designing, so that’s staying. The ‘writing thing’ is coming along okay, I think. I’m learning and learning and trying to improve my craft. I believe that everything good will come.

What inspires you—in your writing and daily life?

Here’s an odd way I get inspiration. Sometimes I misread sentences in books or articles. Not deliberately. But I could be reading this book and misconstrue a sentence’s meaning – or just misread a word’s spelling – then I go back and see the correct thing but what I thought I saw has already given me an idea. There’s inspiration in everything. I’ve read enough Lorrie Moore to believe that everything’s a metaphor, an analogy, a story in progress: from the rolling of fan blades to the next car in Lagos’ traffic. So, I try to be in the moment as much as possible, while opening my eyes to see the stories unfolding.

If you could switch lives with any writer, who would it be? And why?

Only Lorrie Moore, duh. Haha! Just to experience what awesome feels like. I’m sorry, I know you were expecting a more serious answer but Lorrie Moore’s work is a lot of what I want my writing to be. Defiant. In structure. In subject. In ‘logic’. Defiant.

Have you read anything of late that blew your mind away? Do you care to share?

The last thing I read that blew me away would be Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things. I have no words to describe that experience that wouldn’t be reductive. If you’ve read it, surely you understand? Do you know she was an architect? I’m just saying…

What would you say makes a story beautiful?

There’s no formula to a beautiful story. But you’ll feel it. Honesty. You can maybe tell when a story is out to impress you with words and perfect sentence construction and doing all the right things at the right cadence. But for me, an honest story is beautiful in its purity. Simple language with heart that appeals to my humanity. A beautiful story is an experience that I walk into, dwell in, and walk out of – changed.

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We are curious about your writing process. Are you one of those people who find it very easy to get their thoughts down? Or do you find that writing is a long, torturous process?

It’s most difficult for me to start. I stall and stall and mull and mull. It’s easier when I eventually get a paragraph out. It’s easier – but not easy. There are stories that get you fired up – you want to spit it out at once, fingers flying over the keyboard. And there are those that are long, maybe tortuous, where you need to sit still and turn a sentence around and around before letting go.

What’s next for you?

Oh, the dreaded question! Haha. I don’t know what’s next. I’m going to keep writing short stories while waiting for that ‘everything good’ to come.

 

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Image via Writivism Festival Facebook.