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The jellyfish in this picture stars in the cutest behind-the-scene story ever told in the history of African literature.

We’ve always wondered why Nnedi Okorafor dedicated the first novel in the Binti Trilogy to a jellyfish she met in Khalid Lagoon. Who is this jellyfish? What so special about it? How come did it get to have this amazing, bestselling book dedicated to it?

Jellyfish

In a recent interview with Weird Fiction Review, Nnedi Okorafor cleared the mystery behind the jellyfish affair. She tells the story of their encounter and how the “utterly beautiful” sea creature completely stole her heart and inspired one of her most-beloved series.

***

There’s always a story. Everything I write is connected in some way to my own life. Binti has many beginnings. I was writing this novella series before I knew I was writing it. One of those beginnings was in the UAE. My trip there with my daughter was the first of many…adventures. I had three book festival/events in a row on three continents within 12 days. I come from a very tight knit Nigerian American family. All of my immediate family is in the Chicago area. When I told them I was taking my then ten-year-old daughter with my on a 12 day trip that jumped from Brasilia, Brazil, to Atlanta, Georgia (North America) to Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates, everyone freaked out. In the end, I had to sneak to the airport with her and call them just before the plane took off (yes, I felt horribly guilty).

This trip turned out to be one of the greatest adventures, ever (so far). But by the time I arrived in the UAE with Anya, I was changed. When you jump from a place like Brazil where people are very free with their bodies to the Middle East, where everyone is covered up, and in between you spend time with a huge group of Octavia Butler scholars and fans at a historical African American college (Spelman College) doing a reading in a room full of Hoodoo, you can’t help but be affected. From a Portuguese speaking country, to an English speaking one, to a Arabic speaking one. This was my state of mind when I was walking around the Khalid Lagoon with Anya beneath the 100-degree Middle Eastern sun.

All around me was the futuristic, but still deeply ancient city of Sharjah. I stepped up to the water and looked down. And there, pumping away like it had very important things to do, was the very first live jellyfish I’d ever seen in the wild (I’d seen a man-o-war in Trinidad, but it was dead). It was blue, strong, alien and in my state of mind at the time, utterly beautiful.

In that moment, I knew I’d write about it.

Read the full interview HERE.

 

 

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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