This is the third part in our interviews series with the 2017 Caine Prize shortlisted writers. There are interesting thoughts here as Tolu Daniel, our Associate Editor, chats with Chikodili Emelumadu.
Chikodili Emelumadu is the author of Bush Baby.
- Tolu Daniel: Congratulations again on your nomination for the 2017 Caine Prize for African Literature, how does it feel?
Chikodili Emelumadu: It feels good for my work to be recognised. I must say though, when I received the email from Lizzy Atree (the Caine prize director) telling me I’d been nominated, I thought it was a prank! It took a few days for the numbness of disbelief to wear off.
- TD: In Bush Baby, the divide between speculative fiction and reality was not tangible, was it something you set out to do while you wrote the story?
CM: Well, yes. The aim is of course, to make every story as believable as possible, especially when the story contains speculative or fantastical elements.
- TD: There’s been that argument by some people about how to categorize works like yours, are they African Sci-fi or horror or like some authors would prefer ‘just a story’.
CM: I don’t really care under which category my work falls, as long as people are reading it. When I write, I try to be true to whatever story I am telling. I’m not necessarily thinking ‘Oh now I’ll write a horror story or a sci-fi story’. Not all the time, anyway. Writing to a theme as I did for ‘Bush Baby’ is different. The story was for an anthology on horror called ‘African Monsters’ (by Fox Spirit Books in the UK).
- TD: Also, is there any element of reality to your own fiction. What I mean by that is that, are you one of those writers who subscribe to the belief that all kinds of writing are autobiographical.
CM: Ooh, no. Not necessarily. It is just the nature of the beast that bits of real life break off and gets into one’s work, either your life or someone else’s. Art comes from a place of experience; what you see and hear and taste and feel, what you live. Sometimes I don’t even know what part of life has made it into a story until I come back to it years after.
- TD: I liked how you played around the theme of family and societal expectations. Did you set out with these themes in mind while you wrote the Story?
CM: Thank you for the compliment. Erm…no, but then again societal expectation is one that shows up a lot in my work. I’m definitely working through something. I grew up in the East (of Nigeria) where not only is it conservative but it is moreso for female children. Everybody is watching what you wear, how you speak, how you interact – or preferably, don’t interact – with the opposite sex. The pressure for a female is immense, you know, because whatever she does reflects on her family. I mean I started a blog called ‘Igbophilia’ because of it. (The satirical ‘How to Get an Igbo Man’ proved quite popular!)
It’s hard for these themes not to show up in my work, with good reason. I’m sure a lot of women in Nigeria will understand.
- Thanks for your time and we wish you all the best.