IA: Have writing workshops been useful to you?
CNA: Yes. I think they are useful as long as one realizes that the other participants can all be sincerely wrong about a particular work. I see workshops as a 'focus group' in many ways. I read my work through their eyes and sometimes you see it more clearly, especially the weaknesses in it.
IA: Do you have any favourite writers/books
CNA: Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe, Reef by Romesh Gunesekera, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Also, I like Claire Messud's penetrating intelligence, Michael Ondaatje's poetic prose. I admire the lovely, un-self conscious style of Jhumpa Lahiri and Amit Chaudhuri. And Sefi Attah and Chris Abani are people to watch.
IA: Was switching to a degree in Communications, from Medicine, following your dream of writing?
CNA: Yes. I didn't want to study English. I wanted to study something where I would learn about things outside of novels, if that makes sense. I had wanted to major in politics, but couldn't because of some technicality. So I chose communication -- it was called Corporate Communication at Drexel, and I took classes in TV, print, radio and political science. I have always been interested in the media anyway
IA: Your mother is the first female registrar of the University of Nigeria, your two elder sisters are high achieving professionals. There appears to be a history of strong women in your family- how has that affected you and your work?
CNA: It was never overt, but I think I grew up knowing I could be anything and do anything primarily because of my parents -- my mother doing things and my father acting as if it was perfectly natural. So from them I got to internalize that 'nwanyi' (being a woman) didn't mean there were things you could not do.
IA: Are you on a scholarship to Johns Hopkins, where you have just started an MA in Creative Writing?
CNA: Yes. I have a full scholarship and I am teaching freshman writing as part of my fellowship (and for a miserable stipend)
IA: What is your message to young writers, especially those from Africa and perhaps specifically Nigeria?
CNA: Do NOT copy John Grisham. Write our own stories. And as you write a story, imagine that your parents and uncles and aunties and relatives will NEVER read it. They may or may not end up reading it, but the point is that if you keep that in mind as you work, you are more likely to write truthfully, more likely to write things as they are rather than as you wish they were or as you think they ought to be
IA: What are your future plans, and hopes? After Johns Hopkins, what next?
CNA: I'd like to set up a writing colony of some sort in Nigeria. In Nsukka preferably. To get younger Nigerian writers to tell our own stories. I'm not sure what I'll do after Hopkins. I will probably try and get a teaching position, to teach creative writing, and I'd love a part time position so I can work on my own writing. But of course all of that will depend on how well my book does etc
© 2003 Ike Anya. No part of this interview may be reproduced without the permission of the copyright owner.
Anya, a Nigerian doctor and writer is at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.