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."

Namwali Serpell’s debut novel The Old Drift has been a hit with critics. Hailed as the Great Zambian Novel and reviewed for The New York Times Review of Books by Salman Rushdie, it has been high on reading lists. Recently, the UC Berkeley associate professor of literature was featured on the podcast Reading Women, a weekly release where women discuss books by or about women, co-hosted by Kendra Winchester and Autumn Privett.

In a transcript of their conversation which appeared on Literary Hub, she talks about the book and why she used mosquitoes as characters.

Here is an excerpt.

__________________________________________________

Autumn Privett:

One of the characters, and I don’t want to give away who or what it is, but one of the characters—I guess you can call it a character—in the book that is my favorite is the italicized narrator between each of the sections. And I love that you already mentioned an epic because I was like, “Ooo! We have a Greek chorus.” How did you come about to deciding that this book needed that kind of a Greek chorus to round out its characters?

Namwali Serpell:

So the voice of that swarm narrator—and we can give away that it’s a swarm of mosquitoes; I’ve spoken about it in too many contexts, and I think it’s come up in too many reviews to share a secret at this point—that voice came to me very early on, I think, around 2002, after I graduated, maybe 2001. And it belonged initially to the final descendant, who is the son born of Naila, who was one of the three children of uncertain paternity. And at some point, I realized that this, you know, this young man who would be telling the story of his family history, that he would exist in the future. And I also realized that I didn’t myself know who his father was and I didn’t want to know.

And so figuring out who he was as a person proved a task that I didn’t feel quite up to, especially because his voice was so grandiose, and it didn’t really seem like a human voice. And then at some point after I had returned to writing the book and was trying to figure out a way to keep that voice and also to use it as a way to, kind of, pull lessons or some kind of threads out of this very long and rich narrative, or what I hoped would be a long and rich narrative, and I needed some container for this voice. And I’m not sure, you know, people to ask me this, and I know where I was when the idea came to me and I know which elements all clicked together. I knew that the interest in flying things and the interest in blood, the interest in viruses and disease—all of that, and just, you know, the old drift itself, the place as the swamp. I knew that all those things would come together in this figure of the swarm of mosquitoes, but I can’t exactly put my finger on what triggered that idea. I’m glad it came to me, though, because I had a lot of fun writing those sections of the novel.

________________________________________

Read the transcript or listen to the podcast HERE.

Tags: , ,

Otosirieze is deputy editor of Brittle Paper. He is a judge for the 2018/19 Gerald Kraak Prize and the 2019 Miles Morland Writing Scholarships. 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.

No comments yet.

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

Luna Press’ Harvester Series Includes New Collections by Wole Talabi and Nick Woods

wole talabi book

As part of its Harvester Series, a publication programme for collections of old and new stories plus bonus material, the […]

Tade Thompson Wins Arthur C Clarke Award, for Rosewater, the First Novel in His Wormwood Trilogy

tade thompson - rosewater - graph - while reading and walking

The Nigerian writer and psychiatrist Tade Thompson has won the 2019 Arthur C Clarke Award, the UK’s premier honour for […]

In Her Debut Memoir, Bassey Ikpi Deepens Our Understanding of Mental Health by Sharing Her Own Journey

bassey ikpi - graph image - david asumah

In 2004, while on tour with Def Poetry Jam, the Nigerian poet and spoken word artist Bassey Ikpi was diagnosed […]

Wo̩lé S̩óyinká’s Forthcoming Book, His 50th at Age 85, Looks at the Aesthetics, Traditions, & Histories of African Art

wole soyinka - beyond aesthetics

Fresh from celebrations for his 85th birthday days ago, Wo̩lé S̩óyinká has a new book coming. An expansion of his […]

Royal African Society: The UK Home Office Visa Service Discriminating Against Africans

Royal African Society - UK visa (2)

The following is a press release by the Royal African Society.  Home Office Visa Service Discriminating Against Africans “Home Office […]

The Auditory Art of Storytelling in A Small Silence | Reviews by Ainehi

jumoke verissimo a small silence (1)

  A Small Silence is the debut novel by Nigerian poet Jumoke Verissimo. The story is sad, funny, and inspiring […]

Thanks for signing up!

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

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.