Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Four African Writers are Winners

Igbo Women’s Inheritance

Nearly two months ago I submitted an abstract on Igbo Women’s Inheritance for the 4th Annual Igbo Conference at SOAS, the School ofOriental and African Studies at the University of London. I learned two days ago that my abstract has been accepted.

Mbokuocha was our neighbor in Nanka

Mbokuocha was our neighbor in Nanka

The person whose life exemplified a contradiction of inheritance practice was Mbokuocha, our next door neighbor in Clem’s village.

As I write the paper, I’ll tell you more about her. Now I’ll just say that she was instructed not to marry, but to have sons, and she fulfilled that requirement.

I hope I can find a better picture of her. This one is from the shirt that was given out at her funeral.


Author Dinaw Mengestu

All Our Names‘ Author Speaks

Dinaw Mengestu is a powerful writer and speaker. He was the featured guest at the Westport Library last night. He read two segments from his newest book All Our Names, one from each of the two parallel narratives that take place in the early 1970’s in Uganda and the U.S.

He believes there are parallels between the civil rights movement and the movements of people grappling with independence in Africa. At first I thought the timing was off, but then I thought not. True, by the 1970’s the flurry of nationalism that led to independence from colonial masters was mostly over. But it was a period that saw a lot of unrest in many newly independent countries.

I got intrigued reading the editorial reviews of All Our Names on Amazon. Scroll down the page if you want to see them. There were dozens, all lavish with praise. “A searing, universal story of emigration and identity,” said Sara Nelson, Amazon reviewer.

“You can’t turn the pages fast enough . . . While questions of race, ethnicity, and point of origin do crop up repeatedly in Mengestu’s fiction, they are merely his raw materials, the fuel with which he so artfully—but never didactically—kindles disruptive, disturbing stories exploring the puzzles of identity, place, and human connection,” from Malcolm Jones, in The New York Times Book Review.

All Our Names, Mengestu's third novel

All Our Names, Mengestu’s third novel

I loved Mengestu’s answers to audience questions. “Small movements are what interest me,” he said. He searches for the “dramatic tensions between people.” Certain things aren’t said, but the novelist can convey what is happening.” I agree with the audience member who said, “We could see and feel the tension in the restaurant scene,” one of the segments he read to us.

“My work straddles Africa and America,” he said. He was referring both to his writing and to his life and person. He said, “I am interested in the political and racial aspects of our lives, and how these play out.”

I am eager to read All Our Names. First I have to finish The Signature of All Things, by Elizabeth Gilbert for the Baker’s Dozen book club meeting next week at my house.

Other African Authors Win Big

Mengestu was a recipient of the MacArthur Fellow “genius” grant in 2012 and has received many other awards. Other African fiction writers are also being honored.

Author Teju Cole who just won a major fiction prize

Author Teju Cole who just won a major fiction prize

Yesterday I read the announcement of  three African authors who were awarded The Windham Campbell Prize for fiction. Teju Cole was one of those taking home the $150,000 prize. He’s the one I know.

Ainehi Edoro, blogger at Brittle Paper, said, “Teju Cole is the Nigerian-American author of Open City and Every Day Is for the Thief. Some of you may not have read his work but know him as an influential Twitter personality. He uses his novels, essays, and social-media commentaries to help us think about different aspects of life in our contemporary world.” I loved Every Day is for the Thief which takes place in Lagos.

She said that the other two were Ivan Vladislavic, “a South African novelist with very fascinating ideas about history, violence, and post-apartheid life,” and Helon Habila whose “first novel, Waiting for An Angel, helped kickstart the current Nigerian literary renaissance.”

Kidnapping in Nigeria

I heard a brief mention of a kidnapping in Nigeria yesterday either on PBS Newshour or on public radio. This morning I read the story in the NYTimes. The victim is an American missionary teaching at a school in Kogi State. She was seized just outside the school.

The police official in the state says the kidnapping didn’t follow the pattern of Boko Haram, nor is it in the area where Boko Haram is most active, though the NYTimes said it was, “in an area prone to kidnappings for ransom.”

Near the end of the article I read, “All of southern Nigeria is prone to kidnappings, with public officials, their relatives and foreign workers, often in the oil industry, regularly abducted for ransom.”

It was sad to be reminded why we hired three armed police to stay with us in Clem’s village during the Christmas holidays.

Nigerian Ambassador Responds to Washington Post Editorial

Several days ago The Washington Post printed an editorial about the postponement of the Nigerian elections, saying, “Despite U.S. offers of assistance to Nigeria in combating Boko Haram, the government has proved to be a difficult partner to work with.”

The Nigerian Ambassador in Washington wrote a letter in response. He didn’t address that assertion, instead attacking the statement that the postponement was controversial. He defended the government’s decision and told readers that much is being done to assure the elections are free and fair. Will they be?

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

One Comment

  1. Please keep us posted about Mbokuocha!!