My grand uncle was a traditional priest, and he would always say to me as a kid, 'We stand in our own light,' which essentially for him meant we were entirely responsible for a lot of what happens to us and for the ways in which our lives play out.
African narratives in the West, they proliferate. I really don't care anymore. I'm more interested in the stories we tell about ourselves - how, as a writer, I find that African writers have always been the curators of our humanity on this continent.
My father was educated in Cork, in the University of Cork, in the '50s.
We often think that language mirrors the world in which we live, and I find that's not true. The language actually makes the world in which we live. Language is not - I mean, things don't have any mutable value by themselves; we ascribe them a value.
When I was growing up in Nigeria - and I shouldn't say Nigeria, because that's too general, but in Afikpo, the Igbo part of the country where I'm from - there were always rites of passage for young men. Men were taught to be men in the ways in which we are not women; that's essentially what it is.
It takes me forever to actually finish something like a ten-page essay. But, when I do, I usually love what they are. It's a complicated relationship.
I love essays, but they're not always the best way to communicate to a larger audience.
I had amazing intellectual privilege as a kid. My mom taught me to read when I was two or three. When I was five, I read and wrote well enough to do my nine-year older brother's homework in exchange for chocolate or cigarettes. By the time I was 10, I was reading Orwell, Tolstoy's 'War and Peace,' and the Koran. I was reading comic books, too.
I read mostly Irish, African, Japanese, South American, and African writers. You can count on Scandinavian literature for a certain kind of darkness, a modern mythic style.
Like most writers, I find the Web is a wonderful distraction. Who doesn't need that last minute research before writing?
I was born in 1966, at the beginning of the Biafran-Nigerian Civil War, and the war ended after three years. And I was growing up in school, and the federal government didn't want us taught about the history of the war, because they thought it probably would make us generate a new generation of rebels.
There is no living African writer who has not had to, or will not have to, contend with Achebe's work. We are either resisting him - stylistically, politically, or culturally - or we are writing toward him.
Sometimes I feel very alone. I am a bit of a nomad. Many people in sort of emerging countries, emerging economies, find themselves displaced. So there is that sense, and so I'm part of a whole, I think, group of displaced people.
I have to have three or four books going simultaneously. If I'm not impressed in the first 20 pages, I don't bother reading the rest, especially with novels. I'm not a book-club style reader. I'm not looking for life lessons or wanting people to think I'm smart because I'm reading a certain book.
I didn't leave Africa, I left Nigeria, and for political reasons. But ... I've never, never left Africa, and I certainly never left what it means to be Ibo. That is something you carry with you.
Every successful artist comes from a family - parents or siblings or both - who, although equally gifted, chose not to pursue the treacherous and difficult path of the artist.
Elvis, stop dat! You know it is taboo to whistle at night. You will attract a spirit.
Here's the thing: You rescue us every day in small, quiet ways, so why not in this way? Let us into your mystery, tell us how you would like to be loved, show us how to see you, really see you.
I truly believe that writing is a continuum-so the different genres and forms are simply stops along the same continuum. Different ideas that need to be expressed sometimes require different forms for the ideas to float better.
If there was no risk, it wouldn't be art. It wouldn't be worth making. There is risk even in a fairy tale. Fiction is closest to pure narrative, and pure narrative is simply the logic we try to impose on an ever-changing reality.
Fiction and poetry are my first loves, but the really beautiful lyrical essay can do so much that other forms cannot.
In this time of the Internet and nonfiction, to be on an actual bookshelf in an actual bookstore is exciting in itself.
I read everywhere. It's like a bodily function. I don't need quiet. I write and read with the TV on. I follow the TV show while I read. TV doesn't require a lot of brainpower.
Fiction is risky for writers also in that the process of making certain books, of shaping certain narratives, leaves scars and marks on your inner life.
The Igbo used to say that they built their own gods. They would come together as a community, and they would express a wish. And their wish would then be brought to a priest, who would find a ritual object, and the appropriate sacrifices would be made, and the shrine would be built for the god.
Time was the only variable in every equation of power and oppression-how long before the pot boiled over.
The greatest thing about form and convention is that it saves you from having to reinvent the wheel. Now, whether you mount the wheel to a horse carriage or a Formula One racing car, make it plain or give it spinning rims, those are all craft decisions. But the fact of the wheel remains: it will turn if you set it down. That's what I mean about the beauty of the gifts genre can offer.
That women are mysterious and unknowable is something every young man grows up believing. Men, on the other hand, never think of themselves as mysterious or confusing, and we are often at a loss as to why women want to figure us out.
My friend Ronald Gottesman says...that the cause of all our trouble is the belief in an essential, pure identity: religious, ethnic, historical, ideological.
Nigerians are everywhere. There's an old joke, particularly about the Ibos, that when you finally land on Mars, you're going to find a Nigerian there who has a shop that is selling Coca-Cola-who took a speculative trip 20 years ago and has been waiting for everyone else to arrive.
Narrative is a very feeble weapon in the face of human darkness and yet it's all we have. That we have to hang the transformation and survival of our species on the journey and transformation of one singular person so far outside of what we expect they can do.
The privilege of being a writer is that you have this opportunity to slow down and to consider things.
Before you speak, my friend, remember, a spiritual man contain his anger. Angry words are like slap in de face.
People think that writing is writing, but actually writing is editing. Otherwise, you're just taking notes
Fiction is more dangerous than nonfiction because it can seduce better. I think we all know this, know that deeper truths can be approached in fiction than in fact. There are risks for the reader, because after reading certain books you find you have changed irreversibly. There are risks for writers: in China, now, and Ethiopia and other countries right now, writers face real persecution.
What we know about who we are comes from stories. It's the agents of our imagination who really shape who we are.
You know, you can steel your heart against any kind of trouble, any kind of horror. But the simple act of kindness from a complete stranger will unstitch you.
What I've come to learn is that the world is never saved in grand messianic gestures, but in the simple accumulation of gentle, soft, almost invisible acts of compassion.
Something that had the quality of a dimly lit stage set just before the curtains rise on opening night. There was a rhythm to it, a beckoning, and a bittersweet tear in time.
The problem is we're looking for something that doesn't exist. We're looking for authenticity. There is no such thing as authenticity. There is either good art or bad art. Art is never about its content. It's about its scaffolding.