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Igoni Barrett took us by surprise when he came out with his Nigerian rewrite of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. The celebrated novel by the Czech writer has captivated readers for decades and tells the story of a man who wakes up one morning and finds that he has been mysteriously transformed into an insect.

In a novel titled Blackass, Igoni gives Kafka’s classic a whole new life in an urban tale about a Lagosian who wakes up one morning and finds that he is a white man. Barrett’s novel is pure magic and comes highly recommended.

These kinds of quirky, out-of-the-box stories have become Barrett’s trademark. He is successful. He is accomplished in the craft. He has publishers in Nigeria and in the US who ensure that his work is read at home and abroad.

But behind every moment in the spotlight,  there is often the less glamorous years of toil and uncertainty. In a recent essay posted on The Guardian, Barrett details the long and arduous journey that led him to becoming a successful writer.

He talks about studying agriculture at the University of Ibadan, returning home to the village and writing instead of farming, about moving to Lagos and being lost in the literary energy of the city, about writing the right story at the right time and having doors of opportunity open up to him.

It is an inspiring story. A must-read for any aspiring writer out there.

Here is a little taste:

Back in 2001, my mother was the first person to ask me why did I write. My response was mumbled gibberish because I had no answer ready, though I could also hear in her tone that nothing I said would placate her. These days, whenever I’m asked that question, I do my utmost to give a different answer every time. I write because I can, because you read, because we die, because I must. I was 11 when I first experienced the must-write feeling, though it lasted only as long as it took me to realize my poems were childish. About two years later, in 1993, I got the itch again, and spent three straight days writing a play whose main characters, blond hair and all, were Nigerian-accented aliens from a Georgette Heyer universe. After that second failure, I decided to become an aeronautical engineer. Anything was easier than writing. And for anyone who has read enough to recognize how bad their writing is, nothing is harder than writing. Except not writing. Thus I wasted many years suppressing the urge to write, until, one day, just like that, I left my mother’s house to become a farmer. Read more

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Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

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