Here in our second interview series of the 2016 Caine Prize shortlisted writers, Joseph Omotayo again interviewed Lesley Nneka Arimah. She is the author of the shortlisted story, What it Means When a Man Fall From the Sky. Lesley Nneka Arimah is a Nigerian writer living in Minneapolis. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Harper’s and other publications. Lesley Nneka Arimah is currently at work on a collection of short stories (What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky) forthcoming in 2017 from Riverhead Books. Enjoy!
Read our first interview with Abdul Adan here.
Joseph Omotayo: If you are not writing, what other things take your time and passion?
Lesley Nneka Arimah: Books, Twitter and Candy Crush, not necessarily in that order.
JO: Having read Who will Greet You At Home, and the shortlisted piece, What it Means When A Man Falls From The Sky, your writing seems to be a commixture of different genres, one can say you write speculative fiction. Why do you write this way?
LNA: Speculative fiction allows the writer to interrogate our world in interesting ways. I can shine a spotlight on human nature by putting my characters in situations they could never get into in our real world. Speculative fiction also allows me to indulge my imagination and follow the rabbit hole as far as it goes.
JO: Your shortlisted piece does not only revisit the Biafran narrative in an interesting way, it shows how grief could be calculated with mathematics. We could see this manner of gauging and subtracting grief with mathematics as an art. Do you think any art could manage humanity’s problems successfully?
LNA: Art can teach empathy, but humanity’s problems require practical solution. However, one hopes for our solutions to be crafted with empathy.
JO: How central are the first lines of a short story to its success?
LNA: All elements of a story are central to its success. The first line just has the added burden of engaging the reader at the outset.
JO: The world is coming to an end; there are two words to stop that. What words would you write?
LNA: None. Let the world end.
JO: Your advice on writing?
LNA: Be honest. Interrogate your assumptions. When you think you’ve reached “The End”, write a few more pages and surprise yourself.