Otosirieze on His Writing, Finding an Agent, and Contributing to the African Literary Scene
Ladies and gentlemen! Welcome to the #SyncityNG Literary Lord and Ladies show! We are ready! Our guest is ready! But first, a quick introduction:
Otosirieze is deputy editor of Brittle Paper. He is the curator of the Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art exploring different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), and the forthcoming Beats Naija: The Book of Music (2018). He is an editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective. He is a judge for the 2018/19 Gerald Kraak Prize. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition, and has been shortlisted for the inaugural Gerald Kraak Prize and for the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship. He attended the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and taught at Godfrey Okoye University, Enugu. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, and is represented by David Godwin Associates. He can be found at otosirieze.com.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present Otosirieze!
Let’s begin. What did you do to land an agent?
It was quite the long, hard story. I first queried an agent in 2015, on the morning of my undergraduate convocation. As unbelievable as it seems, it was David Godwin I queried because he represented Arundhati Roy. He replied, said he couldn’t take me so I tried other agents. But I came back to him two more times, 2016, 2017, but no response. On the whole, about three agents replied me with comments on the manuscript. One, whose resume showed she was involved with Adichie when she was starting, subtly suggested that I change two stories — two that are central to my vision for it. A nice email from her but I wasn’t going to.
I did many things, e.g alter my bio, because I felt living in Naija with no MFA counted against me. I also didn’t want to ask for assistance as I wanted to prove a point to me. Finally, I asked a big Naija writer and she linked me to the Wylie Agency. A month on, a different person recommended me to David Godwin and he emailed the next day. I was flattered, frankly, by his interest and enthusiasm. He asked to represent me. I screamed yes. I wanted him from the start and, after three declines, got him. I probably queried more than 40 agencies.
If you are just joining us, please grab a chair. @Otosirieze is narrating his ordeal towards finding a literary agent. I never knew writers go through a lot to get agents. @Otosirieze’s journey feels like a trip from Libya to the Mediterranean sea. Wow. I am shouting “praaaise the Lord” all the way from Lagos! So glad you got it. What shaped your writing journey?
I was always a reader, listener and storyteller–who analyses too much. I began writing as a teen, imaginary football match reports in which Chelsea beat Arsenal 4-0. 2009, I read Isidore Okpewho’s The Last Duty and began wanting to write fiction. 2012, I read Half of a Yellow Sun and, well, my life changed. 2013, read Kaine Agary’s Yellow Yellow, which gave me permission to write. Most of all, it was at The Writers’ Community (TWC) in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka that I was refined, maybe truly forged. We read each other and brutally, honestly critiqued. There I met Arinze Ifeakandu, Prince Jacon, Ebenezar Agu, Chisom Okafor, Michael Umoh, Uzoma Ihejirika, Pius Ifechukwu, Adaeze Nwadike.
Overall, my writing is shaped by my experiences. I’m also influenced by books I read. This year, the most important has been Chike Frankie Edozien‘s memoir, Lives of Great Men. His attitude, as a confident, successful gay man, is something young writers/artists need.
You moved from submitting entries for the Gerald Kraak prize to judging that of your peers. What’s the name of your dibia?
LOL. The Dibia would be the fantastic people at Jacana Literary Foundation. I’m greatly honoured, and again to do I alongside people I massively respect.
Let’s leave books and talk music for a moment. A source says you have a big poster of Rihanna by your bedside. How true is this?
LOL. During NYSC, I had a drawing of her on my wall. She’s that important to my life. Not just for her music but for her attitude and what I think is great personal strength. I love her.
“I love Rihanna.” All the single ladies ladies, biko naba. Mass agbasa! It is over. Rihanna has won! If you are just joining us, you are late. @Otosirieze has been on the hot seat! Got questions for him? Ask him. Keep the questions coming. To what extent has working with @brittlepaper influenced your status?
I’d been published in two magazines I love, plus being shortlisted for two awards, including the Gerald Kraak. But coming to Brittle Paper was what changed my “literary status” in relation to the public. It gave my work visibility plus it gave me a rare chance to positively shape/impact specific areas on the literature scene that I particularly cared about. One is the highlighting of young/new writers. Another is contributing to expanding our thin literary journalism, telling the stories behind key institutions. The 3rd is the representation of queerness in our literary culture. I wrote about it last year and Brittle Paper allowed me the vantage to approach it best. It is an area that the Gerald Kraak Prize groundbreaking addresses, which is why I’m excited to be working with them. And I hope to be able to continue to help create spaces for writers and projects, new and established, to be seen plus interpreted in new ways. And I have Ainehi Edoro, one of the great visionaries of our literature culture, to thank for that.
At this point, we will be taking questions from the audience.
@CollinsOffiong: How often do you have writers block and how do you combat it?
@Otosirieze: Never had that. What I had was different; at the height of my creative energies, in 2016 after I finished my collection, I did something very bad to me; I shut me down. Blocked channels of inspiration. Didn’t write new fiction from August 2016 to November 2017. Long story. Also, it would be helpful to the writer to know whether they are having a block or just lacking inspiration. The latter is very common, of course, and could be misnamed.
@gideonogbonna: As an editor, what do you look out for before accepting a story– plot or style?
@Otosirieze: If the writing is good, I want to work with the writer. As an editor — a capacity quite different from my reader and writer selves — I give preference to neither style nor plot, although I make suggestions for both.
@gideonogbonna: Pardon my many questions. @Otosirieze is someone I adore. I want to make use of this opportunity. Is it possible for agents to seek the writer in lieu of the writer seeking the agent?
@Otosirieze: Yes. Agents do seek– and poach and quarrel over — writers. It depends. I think her agent sought Chinelo Okparanta Imbolo Mbue sought hers. Writers may come to agents’ notice via recommendations. If several are interested, the writer may then choose one.
@gideonogbonna: Wow! Nice! I think that is one of the hardest thing for me– the ability to know my work and believe in it.
Self-belief plus honesty about my ability have been my artistic guide of sorts. Both can be learned from:
1.) Reading and reading well.
2.) Having the right company.
At TWC, UNN, we had a simple aim: to be as good as we can be and as good as the best are. I began my collection in November 2012 but started seeking an agent in January 2015. I knew my work, saw what people who had careers were writing — I knew I was up to it.
Alright! And with that, we have come to the end of today’s show.
@Otosirieze We have been enriched by your words tonight. Thanks for honouring our invitation.
Thank you, SyncityNG!!
Ladies and gentlemen!
Thank you for making this night memorable. Join us next week!
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