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Awards Are Important But Writing Is ‘Importanter’ | In Conversation With E. C. Osondu

E. C. Osondu
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Our latest #SyncityNGLLL guest, E. C. Osondu, is known worldwide for his stories. He won the Caine Prize for African in 2009 for his story “Waiting”, after first getting shortlisted for “Jimmy Carter’s Eyes” two years earlier. E. C. Osondu had previously won the Allen and Nirelle Galso Prize for Fiction, and his story “A Letter from Home” was adjudged one of “The Top Ten Stories on the Internet” in 2006. E. C. is the author of the books This House is Not For Sale and Voice of America. A contributing editor at AGNI, E. C. Osondu has been a Visiting Professor at UT, Austin, and is currently an Associate Professor of English at Providence College in Rhode Island.

We had an insightful chat with E. C. Osondu over at Twitter on Monday, and in keeping with our tradition, we have compiled our conversation, moderated by Mystique Syn with him for you to catch up on. Enjoy.

Let’s begin on a casual note, sir. I googled you(of course) and I found something so powerful—your Igbo name. ‘Chukwuenweniwe’, God, don’t be angry. How did this name come about?

Actually, a much longer name-Chukwuenweniwekanmadu. Now you know what it means.

Wow. That’s a full sentence! OK, we really need to have this name talk after this show. But speaking of books, how do people address you, writer or short story writer? Which appendage best suits you since your forte is short stories?

Novelist, short story writer, African writer. To be honest, I feel comfortable wearing any of those hats.

E. C. Osondu

I read your story, Waiting, a powerful story about the life of refugees, but most importantly the American dream. As a writer who now lives in the ‘States, would you say this American dream has lulled African writers over to the West?

Writers want to write, to publish their books, to be read, and all these might be the attraction the West has for some. But don’t forget that a lot is now happening in Africa along those lines as well.

How important are awards and international recognition in the life of a writer? What doors have the Caine Prize and the Pushcart Prize opened for you?

Awards are great. They are important but doing the writing is ‘importanter’, as we say in Nigeria. A writer is like a lone voice crying in the wilderness an award basically says-we hear you.

Would you agree that privilege plays a role in the acceptance of a literary work? For writers who are not as privileged (No big publishing house like Harper Collins, no agent, no Western audience), how do they get their stories out there and gain acceptance?

No writer starts out privileged. Even Wole Soyinka and Achebe started by publishing in student-run literary journals at Ibadan. Many walls have been demolished by the internet. The same email that you use to query an agent or submit a story is same whether in Kafanchan or Karachi.

I read your tribute to VS NaiPaul. You refused to attend a party where he would be in attendance simply because you had not read his latest book. Was your host Donald Trump? 😅😅😅 Been studying the clues all day!

Seriously, I am not allowed to say who the host was for reasons of privacy. But it was definitely not Trump.

What would you say makes a good book? What do you look out for in a work of fiction or non fiction?

A good book never leaves you even after you leave it. It has what you might call a certain ‘radioactive’ quality.

E. C. Osondu
@mystiquesynn: Questions for @EcOsondu. In the past decade, which writer(s) has wowed you with their body of work both in Africa and in the States? Secondly, do you recommend writers to your publishing house Harper Collins or your agents for publishing consideration?

Hmm, I read tons of good stuff online. I’ve seen great stuff in journals founded in Africa. I’ve read good stuff from contests including Writivism, etc. If I begin to list books we might not get to other questions. About your secondquestion, no, definitely not to the publisher, doesn’t work that way. To my agent, yes, but low batting average in terms of acceptance. So, there.

Speaking of contests, we have one currently ongoing, to be judged by Leye Adenle and Mukoma Wa Ngugi. We appreciate the work Writivism is doing and we are excited to be a part of the promotion of the reading and writing culture in Africa in any way we can. What would you say increases the chances of getting published in the West?

Hmm, not necessarily for Africans but for everyone, right? A story that could only have been told by you, tons of luck and possibly an MFA.

If you had to advice up and coming writers, what would you say? A lot of people must have been asking you to mentor them. If you had to tell them anything, what would it be?

Do the work first. Read, join local writing groups. Send out your work. Have a healthy relationship with rejections. Sometimes even your mentor needs a mentor😂😂.

Haha, that’s a good quote right there : Even your mentor needs a mentor! Do tell us how you get inspiration for your stories and where we can purchase your books before we call it a night.

I have never lost the excitement I’ve had for reading since age 6 or thereabouts. You can buy my books from Farafina Books and Ouida Books stores.
This has been more fun than I thought, Syn. Thanks for having me.

One last thing; as a ‘big writer’, I am sure you don’t get rejected anymore. (or do you?)  But do tell us the last time your work was rejected and how it felt. Some of us need to be consoled.

So this journal solicited a submission from me and then rejected the story I sent them…plot twist—happy ending—the story was titled voice of America and got published and translated into French, German, Italian

Thank you so much for honoring our invitation, E. C. Osondu. I’m sure you got tired of me harassing you so you had to give in. We do all we can for the love of literature.

A big thank you, too, to our esteemed audience. Join us same time next week for another amazing show! Meanwhile, you can catch upon our previous Twitter chats with our favorite authors. Read our conversations with our favourite authors Logan February, Bisi Adjapon, Saddiq DzukogiNana Ekua Brew-Hammond, and Ifedigbo Nze Sylvia. You can follow us on Twitter to take part in our live shows.

We’ll be back.

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