Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 3,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

Chinelo Okparanta.

Chinelo Okparanta has been profiled by Sarah Ladipo Manyika for OZY, where Manyika is Books Editor. Titled “The Nigerian-American Writer Who Takes on Taboos,” the profile focuses on the reception of Okparanta’s body of work which explores queerness—the story collection Happiness, Like Water (2013), and the novel Under the Udala Trees (2016), which is the first by a Nigerian to centralize lesbian characters. Both books received the LAMBDA Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction, in 2014 and 2016, and serve as an entry point to the conversations around queerness in Nigerian literature. Okparanta is currently Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Bucknell University, where she is also a C. Graydon and Mary E. Rogers Faculty Research Fellow.

Sarah Ladipo—recently the subject of a personal essay by the Zimbabwean novelist Tendai Huchu—is the author of the novels In Dependence (2008) and Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun (2016). The former, following its inclusion in the syllabus for Nigeria’s secondary school certificate examinations, and ensured by its publishers Cassava Republic’s piracy-beating tactics, has sold more than 1.7 millions copies in the country, as at November of last year. The latter became the first African novel to be shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize.

Sarah Ladipo Manyika.

Read an excerpt of the profile.

*

When asked about the reception of her novel in Nigeria, Okparanta says it’s been mixed. At the 2016 Ake Arts and Book Festival, boos as well as cheers greeted one audience member who told Okparanta that “the natural order of life is against LGBT because the Bible said he [God] made male and female.” Okparanta, a self-identified Christian and a student of the Bible, not only questions some of the literal interpretations of the Bible but also refutes those who accuse her of being “brainwashed by the West.”

“Before the West decided that homosexuality was a sin,” says Okparanta, “I don’t think anyone in Africa, based on my research, thought it was a sin. Our own cultures were not against women-to-women marriages. My own grandmother was married to another woman.” Okparanta sees her writing as a way of “opening up conversations,” which is not to deny that just having those conversations can be difficult. She describes a 2016 radio interview in Lagos, where, “at the last minute, the radio host said, ‘Sorry, we can’t talk about your book because if we talk about it, we’ll be fined.’”

At the age of 10, Okparanta left Nigeria with her family and moved to America, where she recalls library visits for books as varied as Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cryand the Sweet Valley High series. It was in America, at age 11, that she won her first writing prize for an essay on domestic violence. “I grew up in a house where there was domestic violence,” she says. “And my research was interesting, now that I think about it. We had encyclopedias and such, but I also read Jehovah’s Witness publications.… As a child, when there’s a situation of violence, you don’t always understand it or have the vocabulary to name what’s going on, but by finding literature pertaining to that subject that matters to you, [you] might be able to find the correct term to name what’s going on.”

Okparanta sees her writing as a way of “opening up conversations,” which is not to deny that just having those conversations can be difficult.

The vividness with which Okparanta evokes her childhood and domestic settings is a hallmark of her fiction. “She has a gift to evoke backdrop,” says Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Peter Balakian. “She’s able to infuse a setting and scene and dialogue with more than what appears.” And like the work of Okparanta’s former teacher, Marilynne Robinson, it is women and children that stand at the center of her writing.

Back at the 2016 Ake Arts and Book Festival, another audience member noted that Okparanta’s readers had a tendency to “dwell more on thematics than the writing itself.” For some writers, the thematics, or politics, of their work trumps craft, but not so for Okparanta. “Her art is always what art should be, which is truth and beauty rather than propaganda or rhetoric,” says Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Paul Harding. “There’s a lucidity to it, an aesthetic truth to it that’s just astonishing.”

Read the full profile on OZY.

Tags: ,

Otosirieze is deputy editor of Brittle Paper. He is a judge for the 2018/19 Gerald Kraak Prize. He is an editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is the curator of the Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He combined English and History at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, is completing a postgraduate degree in African Studies, and taught English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

One Response to “Chinelo Okparanta Profiled by Sarah Ladipo Manyika for OZY” Subscribe

  1. Amethyst 2018/01/10 at 03:01 #

    I agree, precolonial Nigerian cultures never viewed homosexuality, queerness or cross dressing as unnatural or a sin. The British used the law and religion to make it illegal and taboo. So it baffles me when people talk without researching history.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

On Confessional Schizo-Poetry and Finding Meaning: In Conversation with JK Anowe, Winner of the 2017 Brittle Paper Award for Poetry

jk anowe - graph

JK Anowe, a Nigerian-born poet, holds a BA in French from the University of Benin, Nigeria, where he was awarded […]

Photos | Pages & Palette Hosts Reading of Frankie Edozien’s Lives of Great Men in Abuja

Lives of Great Men - Frankie Edozien at Pages & Palette -- photo by Victor Adewale (9)

Last December, Abuja bookstore Pages & Palette hosted a reading of Chike Frankie Edozien’s memoir Lives of Great Men. Published […]

Mauritanian Blogger Mohamed Mkhaïtir Has Now Been in Jail for 5 Years

mohamed mkhaitir

In December 2013, Mauritanian blogger Mohamed Mkhaïtir wrote a blogpost criticizing his country’s government for using religion to discriminate against minorities. […]

Read Chapter One of Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities

an orchestra of minorities - graph

Chigozie Obioma’s second novel An Orchestra of Minorities was published this January. As part of The Summer Library’s “selected extracts from […]

Laila Lalami’s Fourth Novel, The Other Americans, Is a Family Saga, a Murder Mystery, and a Love Story

laila lalami - alchetron - graph

Laila Lalami’s new novel is forthcoming on 26 March 2019 from Pantheon, an imprint of Penguin Random House. The 320-page […]

Thursday’s Children: 11 Contributors to Forthcoming Anthology Discuss Experimentation and the Nature of Creative Nonfiction

thursday's children - graph

Thursday’s Children is a forthcoming anthology of personal essays. Co-edited by Adams Adeosun and Bello Damilare, it comes with an […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.