A big congratulations goes out to her! Dr. Okorafor-Mbachu was a special guest at this year's Diversicon, joining the ranks of writers like Minister Faust, Mark Rich, Tananarive Due and myself. :)
To celebrate, here's an interview I did with her earlier this year:
Dr. Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu is the Chicago-based writer of Zahrah the Windseeker, a children's novel that takes place in a highly technological world based on Nigerian myths and culture.
Her recently released The Shadow Speaker (Hyperion Books, 2007) is set in the countries of Niger and Nigeria. It was a finalist for the Essence Magazine Literary Award and a nominee for an NAACP Image Award. The Shadow Speaker was also a Booksense Pick for Winter 2007/08.
She is the winner of the 2007/08 Macmillan Writer's Prize for Africa. Her winning unpublished children's book, Long Juju Man, a story about a Nigerian girl's encounters with an irritating crafty ghost, will be published by Macmillan in 2008.
She will be a special guest at this year's Diversicon in Minnesota and is an active voice in the Carl Brandon Society among others. A warm and engaging writer with a great imagination and lively sense of humor, I've met her on a several occasions and had a chance to ask her a few questions:
What are you working on these days, artistically?
Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu: I'm always working on something. :-). But for the last month, I've suddenly started writing a part two to The Shadow Speaker. I didn't intend to; sequels are not my thing. But my sister Ifeoma kept bothering me about it. She pointed out some interesting loose ends and points of possibility at the end of The Shadow Speaker that really got my mind churning. Soon things started to germinate and I just started knocking it out. Right now, I've got over two hundred very messy pages with holes, gaps, typos, inconsistencies, etc. But the story is here; it's ALIVE! I'm not sure if it's YA or adult, though. I'll worry about that when I finish.
I'm also working on an adult fantasy novel called Black Locusts. Its set in Nigeria's oil-rich but troubled Niger Delta. That one is far more polished.
What's been the biggest challenge for you, as a writer?
NOM: Finding time to write as my daughter's naps shrink and disappear. I used to get a lot of my writing done when she was asleep. I'd do all other work when she was awake, since it didn't require such deep concentration. Now that she's 4, her naps are almost gone and I've had to adjust. I teach four classes at two universities, too, and have some other things going on in my life that take up time. It's a grand juggling act. But I'm surprised to say that I'm managing.
How did you first get into writing?
NOM: I took a creative writing class in my sophomore year in college. Prior, I had never even thought to write fiction. But I was a heavy reader and I liked to write long colorful letters to friends.
What are some of your favorite themes and ideas to work with?
NOM: Identity, the environment, gender issues, the hero/heroine's journey, self-sacrifice and Africa-ness.
Who's on your reading list these days?
NOM: Alice and Wonderland (since people keep comparing my books to it. I've seen the Disney movie a thousand times but read the book a long long time ago)
The Art of War (another reread)
The Name of the Wind (I've read Pat's earlier draft but not the finished polished perfect end product yet)
A Long Way Gone
Do you have any advice for emerging writers?
NOM: Keep writing and reading. I had to write about three novels (one that was 500 pages…and this novel introduced me to the world you'll find in both of my published novels) before I wrote something publishable.
When I was writing these, I didn't care about getting published. I was doing it for the love. This allowed me to really hone and develop my skills without the rejection process, editors, outside opinion and deadlines breathing down my back. Take your time.
I've loved reading since I was very young. I feel like much of what I leaned happened by osmosis, as I consumed book after book after book. You must read to be a writer. Also if you don't like to read, why should other people like to read your work?
Lastly, don't give up. Writing is much more challenging and time consuming than people think. There are sacrifices you have to make to produce written work. When you face those sacrifices, it helps to know this.