8 July 2014


    "The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself" ~Albert Camus

I did not choose my guest today by chance. Adaobi's maiden novel, 'I Do not Come to You by Chance', the first novel in the literary world to capture the phenomenon of 419 scams, won the 2010 Commonwealth Writers' prize for Best First Book (Africa); a Betty Trask First Book Award; and was named by the Washington Post as one of the best books of 2009.
She's a graduate of Psychology from the University of Ibadan, and her essays have been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC, the Guardian, CNN, Sunday Express, Premium Times... Just to name a few.

We discussed African writing, publishing, the inspiration behind her first novel, and when the long awaited second novel is coming out. Here's my stroll with Adaobi;

Ebenezar: It's a pleasure having you on the stroll Ms. Adaobi Tricia. 

Adaobi: Thanks for having me.

Ebenezar: My first contact with you was when I heard you on "From Our Own Correspondent" on BBC World Service and I still remember how I was blown away that day by your piece. You also write for New York Times, CNN, the Guardian, just to mention a few. It seems for you there's no line between Literature and journalism?

Adaobi: My ability to write doesn’t control me; I control it. My writing is a tool to convey whatever ideas I desire to at any given point in time. I decide the best means to convey those thoughts, whether an essay or a short story or a novel or whatever.
Ebenezar: In 2010, "I Do Not Come to You by Chance", your award winning book, made a 'big bang' in the Literary world, and it's the first novel ever written about Internet fraud, I'll like to know, what inspired it? Perhaps personal experience?

Adaobi: I decided to write a novel before I knew what I was going to write about. I’ve always been fascinated by human personality, by the science of why people do the things they do, and I thought the 419 scams phenomenon would be the perfect means to explore this. I grew up in the eastern part of Nigeria, where a good number of Igbo chaps I knew went into 419 scamming. Many of them had excellent academic records and were from respectable families. Giving insight into how that sort of unlikely transition happens was the idea behind I Do Not Come to You by Chance.

Ebenezar: Four years after your novel, do you think the rate of internet fraud is still as it was when you decided to write about it?

Adaobi: I’m not sure about the rate of fraud, but the ostentatiousness and vulgarity of the 419 scammers has reduced considerably. I still hear stories of young boys with laptops concocting all sorts of interesting schemes with their IT skills, but they are not as loudly visible as the 419 scammers of the era described in I Do Not Come to You by Chance.

Ebenezar: Okay, so what do you think is the solution to the problem of internet fraud globally?

Adaobi: From the Nigerian end, part of the solution would include providing our young people with opportunities for honourable employment. There are just so many smart ones around with nothing to do with all that brain power. And so, the devil’s workshop sounds to them like a good place to start
Ebenezar: Haha, True, if you go on social media these days, Facebook, twitter, and the likes, you'll find young writers converting their status updates to writing pads and you'll find poems tagged to pictures and stuffs like that. Young writers are finding a whole new way to share their passion with the world. What's your advice to this generation of writers?

Adaobi: Writers should be bold to approach agents and editors with their work. It’s great to have 200 of your friends tell you how wonderful a writer you are, but, in the long run, if none of those 200 friends is linked to the publishing industry and you harbour grand career dreams, you’ll likely end up at the same spot you began. Also, be original. You don’t need to ape someone else’s writing style or thoughts. Ideas abound. There’s always room for something new and fresh. 

Ebenezar: That's very true. Talking about your book, you're the first contemporary African writer to get an international book deal while still in your home country. How were you able to achieve this feat? 

Adaobi: It started with a decision to publish a book that would be international rather than local. That decision led to my seeking information. The Internet showed me how to go about it and led me to my New York literary agent, who then pitched my work to publishers. The Internet is also my link to all the international publications for which I write. Of course, these things are easier when you live abroad and can get to meet editors face to face, but if you’re in Nigeria, you have to make the best of what is available to you: The World Wide Web.

Ebenezar: Okay, I'll also like you to clear this up. Does publishing outside Nigeria increase ones chances of winning continental and international awards? And how can we make home base publishing, in Nigeria, more elegant?

Adaobi: If nothing else, publishing outside Nigeria ensures that people in other parts of the world can have access to hard copies of your book. That is, if you are not one of those writers content with only their mother and little sister reading their work. Regarding awards and recognition, many major book prizes do not accept submissions from books that haven’t been published internationally. To be eligible for the Booker Prize, for example, you have to have been published in the UK. And we all know the kind of massive publicity that comes from winning such awards. Publicity is essential to a writer’s success. 

Ebenezar: I'm sure many people are also dying to ask this, When is that second book coming out? We've waited for 4 years now you know?...

Adaobi: The interesting thing is that the majority of those who ask me this question haven’t even read my first book yet. But you should hear some very interesting news from me soon.
Ebenezar: Okay, we'll keep our ears open i can assure you. Many people consider you a very controversial writer and your essays on international journals seem to spark heated debates most of the time, what will you give credit to for such a quality? ☺ Haha.  

Adaobi: What most Nigerians and other Africans (especially those in the diaspora) seem to find worrying about my articles in international publications is the ‘bad image’ I am allegedly giving ‘my people’. That’s the most common feedback that filters up to me. Following an article I wrote for the New York Times in February 2013, a young Nigerian woman actually said to me: “Yes, we know that we treat ourselves horribly in Nigeria but you didn’t need to write about it in the NYT. Why couldn’t you have written about it in ThisDay (or any other local paper)?” What shocked me most about that comment was that the woman had just graduated from an Ivy League school. Forgive me if I sound naive but the impression some of us have been given is that an Ivy League education totally transforms your thinking from that of the masses. Does that woman's question reflect the kind of thinking that will drag Africa to glory?

Ebenezar: (haha) Well....

Adaobi: I think not. It’s so sad that we can’t discuss our issues frankly because we are afraid that the West will overhear. At the same time, few will pay attention to your voice unless you speak via a Western medium. It’s a really tricky situation for those of us who desire to initiate vital discussions.

Sadly, ours is a society where individuality is strongly discouraged. The minute I ascend a global stage, I am expected to cease being Adaobi Tricia, an individual, an autonomous being. I must bear the mantle of the oppressed continent, to speak, reason, fight on behalf of her victimised people, and always take ‘their side’ on every issue. As I write or speak, I must always first ask myself, What Would an African Say? It’s almost like being the member of a secret cult.

Ebenezar: (hahaha) Okay, as funny as it sounds, that's very true...

Adaobi: My writing is considered controversial because I am not conforming to this script that African audiences are accustomed to from their ‘representatives’ on the global stage. Thankfully, God has blessed me with a skin of steel and a focus like flint, so I can never be bullied into anybody’s expectations. And I’m confident that, with time, with more writers like me gradually chipping at all the neuroses that have held our continent back, Africans will finally experience mental emancipation. When that happens, articles that tackle issues honestly and unapologetically, will no longer be considered controversial.

Ebenezar: Yeah, we hope that time comes quickly. Many female African writers are doing great across the world, and one name that readily comes to mind is Chimamanda Adichie. I don't know if you followed the buzz that came up sometime this year about her not willing to change surname after marriage? What's your stand about the 'surname thing' for female writers?
Adaobi: I’m not aware of the arguments that were put forward in the debate to which you refer, but I do know that the unity of marriage requires that each spouse make adjustments to suit the other. They could decide that one person move from Paris to join the other in Ouagadougou, or that the other give up a particular hobby that interferes with their family time. 

Similarly, they could agree that the woman drop her surname for his, or that he drop his for hers, or that they both take on an entirely new one altogether. The key thing is that these decisions should be taken together, and each spouse should be willing to consider the other’s feelings and opinions. What each couple then decides that they are happy with is nobody’s business—not yours, not mine, not those "buzzing" on Facebook or Twitter. 
Ebenezar: That's a very solid point I must say, thank you so much once again for your time Ms Adaobi Tricia. God bless you, and good luck in all your endeavours.

Adaobi: Thank you, Ebenezar.


For more about Adaobi visit www.adaobitricia.com

Writers are indeed the mirror of the society, but when writers are are carried away with political combat or self interest, that mirror is broken. What's the use of a broken mirror?

Till my next stroll, on July 30th, International Day of Friendship, when I'll be celebrating a friend who has impacted my life greatly, be good.


Jesus Loves you.

"That's how it is with my words. They don't return to me without doing everything I send them to do." (Isaiah 55v11, CEV)


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