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Nnedi Okorafor was one of the very first writers I met when I was starting my publishing career. We both won places in Volume 18 of Writers of the Future back in 2002, and we met out at the workshop in LA.
I think I even have a picture of us back then at the award Ceremony. Let me see if I can find it....
Nnedi's a dynamo, and way tougher than I am. After I got my master's degree, I left academia behind me, shaking the dust from my feet. But Nnedi got her PhD.
In fact, she got her PHD, had a baby, and launched her writing career pretty much all at the same time. Like I said: Dynamo.
But in addition to that, she's a lot of fun. So when I started thinking of doing interviews for Worldbuilders, I thought of Nnedi....
Heya Nnedi. Let's say you're at a party and you meet someone you wanted to impress. What sort of things about your writing career would you casually drop into the conversation to prove that you're awesome?
I'd mention that I won some awards and stuff and that I like to write about a Nigeria enslaved by juju-powered computers.
Which awards have you won? Anything super-cool?
My novel, Zahrah the Windseeker, won the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature. That was cool because not only did I win $20,000 but I was flown to Nigerian for a ceremony where I got to meet one of my greatest idols, Sub-Saharan Africa's first Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka. Coolest day ever.
My children's book, Long Juju Man, won the Macmillan Writer's Prize for Africa. Last month, the University of Illinois gave me a Special Recognition Award. I've also been a finalist for the Tiptree Award, Golden Duck Award, Andre Norton Award, WSFA Small Press Award, Theodore Sturgeon Award, Essence Magazine Literary Award, an NAACP Image Award, blah blah.
Wow. That's a lot of mojo. Back in the sixth grade I won an award for doing the best lip sync in my com class, but you've totally got that beat.
Uh, dude, you also won the freakin' Quill Award and were a NYT bestseller. Can't forget those, man. ;-)
They just gave me the Quill because I'm pretty. What are you reading right now?
Otherland by Tad Williams. I read the series back when it first came out. My disgust with District 9 made me want to reread it; to wash away the grime. It's working. Next up, King's Under the Dome.
If you had to pick your favorite book of all time, what would it be?
The Talisman by Stephan King and Peter Straub. I first read it when I was twelve. That book unlocked a door in me that will never close. I still return to it every so often, despite the character of Speedy Parker being a "Magical Negro", heh.
That's a term I first heard of because of you, but not a lot of people know about it. Care to explain?
There are five points I came up with to spot a Magical Negro. Speedy Parker hits them all (well, number 3 is a little shaky until Black House). Here they are:
1. He or she is a person of color, typically black, often Native American, in a story about predominantly white characters.
2. He or she seems to have nothing better to do than help the white protagonist, who is often a stranger to the Magical Negro at first.
3. He or she disappears, dies, or sacrifices something of great value after or while helping the white protagonist.
4. He or she is uneducated, mentally handicapped, at a low position in life, or all of the above.
5. He or she is wise, patient, and spiritually in touch. Closer to the earth, one might say. He or she often literally has magical powers.
Check out my essay, "Stephen King's Super-Duper Magical Negroes", on the Strange Horizons website here.
If you lost a bet and had to stand under Neil Gaiman's window at midnight and serenade him. What song would you pick?
Lady Ga Ga's "Poker Face", the acoustic version.
Which would you rather do: cut out 20% of your current book, or insert a wacky talking animal sidekick (a la Disney movie) into half the chapters because the marketing people think it would make the book sell better.
Hey, I write for Disney (The Shadow Speaker is published by Disney and I'm writing a Disney Fairy chapter book titled Iridessa and the Fire-Bellied Dragon Frog). :-P. Plus I love wacky talking sidekick animals! I've got one in The Shadow Speaker. Well, Onion (Ejii's camel) speaks in monotone and with very very few words but yeah. :-D.
Heh. I've read Shadow Speaker, but I never thought of the Ejii's camel in the same vein as the classic Disney animal sidekick.
True. Onion's nothing like Abu in Aladdin or Mu-Shu the Dragon in Mulan. But I think the wacky Disney side-kick can be an asset when done with some finesse.
I like the idea of a sh*t-talking parrot or miniature hedgehog who makes no sense whenever she speaks. Or how about a jive-talking black monkey whose catchphrase is "AW DAAAYAUM"?
What's the best compliment you've ever received?
At a book signing, a grown man once told me that my YA novel Zahrah the Windseeker made him see spiders and insects everywhere he went for days. Ha ha, he looked relatively sane, but I guess you never know.
What's the most hurtful thing someone has ever said in a review of your book?
This white guy (won't mention names), once wrote that he wouldn't read my novels because it's full of black people and had no white characters to "balance it out". Nice.
If you could punch one literary figure, who would it be?
HA HA HA HA! OMG, dare I answer this…nah. My response would be absolutely SCANDALOUS.
Aww… Come on. You tell me yours and I'll tell you mine…
Believe me, you wouldn't believe who it is. It would be very very bad press for me to speak the name. It's utter blasphemy. But it makes me giggle that this name was the first thing to instantly pop into my head when I considered your question.
Okay. I don't want to get you in trouble...
The poet Edith Sitwell used to lie in an open coffin each day before she started writing. Do you have any little rituals that help you write?
I have a lot of rituals. An interesting one is that I must turn on my space heater and set it right beside me. Even during most of the summer days. I need to be hot when I write. Ok, that sounds kind of suggestive. Heh, you know what I mean.
Through an effort of pure will, I'll resist the urge to make the obvious joke....
I recently made a joke about "transition putty" on my blog. That being, of course, the what we writers buy at Home Depot to smooth out our rough transitions.
If you could have some sort of handyman tool like that, something like Plot Spackle or a Character Level. What would it be?
Natural-Looking Filler for those tough glaring gaps between the exciting parts of the story where crazy sh*t happens.
You can just say shit if you want. We're all friends here. Nobody's going to judge you.
Yeah, I figured it was ok with you. It's just that I judge myself. I was raised to never use profanity, so it's still odd for me. Ironically, I'm a big fan of cursing; it's one of the reasons I enjoy hip-hop so much. I do most of my cursing in my fiction. Like in my short story, "On the Road" in the Eclipse 3 Anthology.
Hmmm… Now that you mention it. I cuss a lot in real life, but not very much in my books. I wonder if there's a connection.
Maybe I need to save some of my cussing, so I can put it into a book later. I didn't know it was a finite resource.... Anyway, that's all I've got. Thanks so much for the interview, and thanks for donating some books to the cause.
:-). And thank you for putting it all together. I'm happy to be a part of it.
- Four copies of The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu. Signed by the author.
"Okorafor-Mbachu's imagination is stunning." - the New York Times
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