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When it comes to big books, it is often easy to guess what inspired them. His work as a journalist inspired Helon Habila’s Waiting for an Angel. The stories her parents told inspired Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun after her nostalgia while studying in the U.S. inspired Purple Hibiscus. A visit to a former slave castle inspired Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing. Among other things, an obsession with Ugandan history outside colonial narratives inspired Jennifer Makumbi’s Kintu. While inspirations can be guessed from a book’s subject, it is not always so as the subject takes shape only afterwards. This is what happened with Imbolo Mbue’s Behold the Dreamers.

At the University of Dayton Campus Symposium back in January, Mbue revealed hers. It came at a time she had lost her job. She was taking a walk when it happened:

“I saw chauffeurs parked outside one of the buildings where high-ranking businessmen live. I had seen chauffeurs in Cameroon, my home country, but I did not expect that in America. I was curious about the relationship between the people in these two very different worlds.”

Behold the Dreamers focuses on Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant in the U.S. who works as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers, around the 2008 collapse of the financial institution. It took her five years to write, then became the first novel by an African to attract a million dollar advance, then got picked for Oprah’s Book Club, then won the 2017 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.

Read Brittle Paper‘s interview with Imbolo Mbue last year.

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OTOSIRIEZE is a writer, literary journalist, former academic, and Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. A judge for the 2019 Gerald Kraak Award, he is an editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective which has published two volumes: WE ARE FLOWERS and THE INWARD GAZE. He is the curator of ART NAIJA SERIES, a sequence of themed e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness: ENTER NAIJA: THE BOOK OF PLACES (October, 2016) focuses on cities in Nigeria; WORK NAIJA: THE BOOK OF VOCATIONS (June, 2017) focuses on professions in Nigeria. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition, and has been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship and the Gerald Kraak Award, both in 2016, and a Pushcart Prize in 2015. He attended the 2018 Miles Morland Foundation Creative Writing Workshop. He has completed a collection of short stories, YOU SING OF A LONGING, and is working on a novel. He is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He combined history and literature at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and taught English at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. When bored, the boy just Googles Rihanna. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts editing and writing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze.

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