This is the second instalment in our #2017CainePrize interview series. In this one, Joseph Omotayo, our content editor, engages Arinze Ifeakandu on his shortlisted story and writing. Arinze Ifeakandu is the author of God’s Children Are Little Broken Things.
- Joseph Omotayo: Congrats on your shortlisted story. At what point in your writing career did this news meet you? And in what ways will it change how you are perceived as a writer?
Arinze Ifeakandu: Thank you. I got the news of the shortlist at a very low point in my writing. I had lost my laptop a few months before, which meant that I lost valuable work, too. This, just as I was snatching myself from a long period of creative wilderness. Getting the news buoyed me, gave me hope. I however cannot say for sure how this changes people’s perception of me as a writer—except saying that it exposes me to many more people.
- JO: Why do you write fiction?
AI: I write fiction because it’s something I enjoy doing, something I’ve always enjoyed doing; even before I learned to read and write, I told stories orally to my siblings and the children of my neighbourhood, and when I learned how to spell, classmates would buy notebooks so I could write them stories and draw them pictures. As I grew up into teenage, fiction became for me a place to escape, a place of wish fulfillment—a terrible thing, really, because it makes or made me mostly inactive in the concrete world.
- JO: Your shortlisted story, God’s Children Are Little Broken Things, is plotted around a deep sense of pain and making significant life choices. How central are those to living?
AI: Pain is, sadly, a core part of our existence. I wish it weren’t, I really do. But it is, and I cannot say how significant it is to living. Sometimes we can control the things that make us hurt; many times we cannot. We can choose to refuse to live a lie, to be the best, unabashed versions of ourselves—but how can we guarantee that that gives us joy? Of course we can always find peace inside us, and people to be happy with, but what do we do about the many people whose hearts are full of darkness, a violent kind of darkness—people who will seek you and hurt you for choosing to inhabit your reality?
- JO: Do you believe fiction should be taken as a reflection of reality? Or should we just read it for fun?
AI: I cannot tell people how to read fiction. But I know that if it’s not fun—and my definition of “fun” is quite subjective and involves fiction that is “real” and can inspire reflection—then it is not worth anybody’s time. My professor would disagree. Reading is work, he would say. So, you see, I really cannot dictate to people how to read.
- JO: Your story engages homosexuality and links it to how making choices could be hard. How hard could switching sexuality and owning one’s sexuality be?
AI: I do not know about switching sexuality. One can inhabit a reality that is not theirs, and then choose to finally tell themselves the truth. That does not mean that they have switched; it means that they have come into themselves. I do not imagine that it is an easy thing to do, owning one’s sexuality after years of running from it, and in a way this story tries to imagine that journey.
- JO: I like to see your story as a fast paced linked chain of choices. The chief narrator finds himself in a fix of choosing between himself and Racheal. His decision does not seem fair.
AI: From where I am sitting, I feel his decision is fair, no? People fall in and out of love, go in and out of relationships. It hurts, but it is only a little hurt in comparison to the hurt of a life of running from oneself. Like pain, this too is a reality people must accept. I always feel uncomfortable when people say, “As long as it makes you happy, do it.” I agree that we should try as much as is possible to avoid misery, but that is such a narcissistic, silly thing to say. And to live that way, to always think of our happiness, of only our happiness—that cannot be healthy. But to always put other people’s happiness before ours: that is worse. So, Lotanna: his entanglement with Rachael and Kamsi can only lead one way. I don’t know: Is it fair that she always has to wonder about Lotanna’s loyalty? Or that he continues to treat her as though she were a fool? I would think not.
- JO: Best wishes on the shortlist
AI: Thank you, Joseph.
In case you missed the first interview series, see Here.