A definite highlight of this weekend was getting down to The Bernie Grant Arts Centre and meeting Irenosen Okojie. Her newest collection of short stories, Nudibranch, is out now. Managed to pick up a copy and get it signed! In a chat with Sarah Ozo – Irabor (Books And Rhymes podcast), Irenosen dropped some truthful gems on her writing and publishing journey so far. Made me think about a few things. Please enjoy my brief ramblings:
I’d love to see more experimental Black authors getting some shine
I’ve only read Butterfly Fish by Irenosen Okojie a few years ago (very creative, nuanced story!)- It is very experimental, a narrative you wouldn’t pull out of the air. A mix of magical realism and historical fiction, dancing between London and Benin in different eras, transforming relationships. Irenosen mentioned that Black experimental writers aren’t lauded enough. She spoke about disrupting the “same-ness” (yh, I know I should have said homogeny) of Black characters and how black authors are often critiqued on the weight of their writing’s impact in relation to race. I completely felt that, it’s even made me move away from reading about certain narratives because of it. Not that narratives centred around race aren’t needed- they are….but we have a wider scope
Of course you have the classics like Toni Morrison and Octavia Butler but in general, especially in modern day, publishers and mainstream audiences don’t leave enough space for black authors to reach into the unknown and just play with it. I love experimental music and movies (when it goes right, but how would we know if it wasn’t attempted??) but when it comes to books I don’t know how many experimental black authors we even see published. Any suggestions?? I’m finding Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah to be different from anything I’ve read in a while. It’s been compared to Black Mirror, I think that’s an accurate parallel. Irenosen recommended Leone Ross, will see if I can pick one of her books up
Bring other people with you!
I’ve always found Irenosen to be very involved in the UK writing community and see her name on various projects, see her championing other writers on Twitter. I’ve even been fortunate to have her encourage me personally on my blogs. Bumped into her before the talk started and she was very approachable. All of this is very important, we need to support and lift each other up where we can! She mentioned that she had been fortunate to be published by Dialogue Books , working with Sharmaine Lovegrove who understood her vision and supported it. Having other black women work with her when editing her work also made a difference. We all know we are supposed to be supportive but it’s beautiful to see it in action
Tottenham Literature Festival is going to to be one to look out for!
This was the first time it’s been run but looking at the line up, I’m already looking forward next year’s! Some fantastic panels and talks with Candice Carty-Williams, Lemn Sissay, JJ Bola, Emma Dabiri. Workshops and activities for the kids too! My Little Paperback had a great time
Also, it was a busy day in lit festivals on Saturday, Island Full Of Voices, a clebration of 35 Years of Wasifiri Magazine was happening at the British Library!
Nudibranch was released on 7th November 2019 published by Dialogue Books
Post-edit: New review available here!