Nigerian writer Frances Ogamba desires freedom from something she is not quite aware of and so she writes to find out. Her stories appear in Afridiaspora and Writivism prize 2016 anthologies, Dwartonline and Ynaija websites, and on Enkare review. She is a workshop alumnus of Writivism 2016, Ake fiction 2016, and Winter Tangerine 2016. She lives in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
Frances spoke to www.nation.co.ke about her literary fantasies and favourites.
Do you consider yourself an African writer?
I love to think that I’m a writer firstly, because the term African writer sounds like an alienation from the rest of the writers from other continents.
It isn’t often that you hear of European writers, or Asian writers, or North American writers. So, this effort to tag a writer from Africa to her continent does not work for me.
However, I do not deny my Africanness and the beautiful way it reflects on my stories. I consider Africa a gift and a muse that never ceases to inspire.
Which two books do you hold so dear that they can’t possibly be lent out?
A Judgement in Stoneby Ruth Rendell is a timeless crime fiction book which does not quite read like a crime story until the crime takes place. Ruth Rendell reveals one of the least talked about fears of human beings: illiteracy. That this fear could move her character, Eunice, to murder her own father, and kill an entire family is a rare tie in a fictive story. What surprises even more is that beyond a jail term and other punishments she was condemned to, Eunice was most mortified when it was made known to the world that she could not read or write. Secondly, Damage by Josephine Hart which is an in-depth introspection into our existence, what lights us up and what breaks us. It goes beyond a story of a father whose son catches making love to his fiancée and this son tumbles backwards in shock and dies. Damage is more than just a story. It will get any reader thinking about life’s significance.
Why do you think Nigerians are winning all the literary prizes?
All? Tons of prizes are won annually by non-Nigerian writers. Nigerians only constantly crowd the long lists and shortlists of prizes but they do not always win. I think the country’s large population plays a role. There are about 186 million Nigerians as at 2016 and the possibility of finding these people in almost every profession in the world is high.
What are you currently reading?
The City of God by Dominique Lapierre.
It is a 520-page-long real story of Calcutta in the time of Mother Theresa and other unmentioned heroes and living saints of the poor and the ignored. In the most impoverished quarters of a human habitation, you’d discover more suffering, more heroism, more love, and more happiness than in any rich estate of the developed world. It is a beautiful story of giving, a lesson of hope for us all.
Your childhood favourite books?
I loved Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I was nine years old the first time I read it. It captured the pre-colonial Igbo culture and politics, and led me to find meaning and value in my immediate environment. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is what I consider a girl child’s favourite. This book transcended borders and captured the life of almost every 9-13-year-old in the world. King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green was a beautiful fairy tale of magic.
If you were to dine with three writers, dead or alive, who would they be and why?
I would give anything to have a long chat and probably a swim and a stroll with Chinua Achebe. Besides being my first literary crush, he was the first author who named my writing talent for me. It was after reading him that I began to scribble stories in note books. It was him I thought of every time I conjured up stories with African themes. It was him before anyone else. It was him before me. Then there is Maya Angelou, who is someone I discovered not long before she died. I would love to have a personal chat with her, and hear what she has to say to me. The third would be Chimamanda Adichie. Her success made me take on writing more seriously than ever. The difference between Achebe’s and her influence on me is that Achebe made me see writing as a man’s thing. Like something I couldn’t quite excel in but could admire. But Adichie’s sudden ascent in the literary world said to me ‘You too can’.
Why do you write?
Sometimes it is the only thing I can offer the society as solace for her sorrows, as entertainment, and as corrections for her errors. Sometimes I write because my life may lose meaning if I do not. It is the only true thing I can call mine.
If you were sent off to Robben Island for a year, which three books would you take with you and why?
If I find myself on an Island I’d rather write than read. I mean who finds themselves on Islands often? So, I’d let my imaginations run wild and I’d write.
Do you think literary prizes are important?
Literary prizes are great because they show us great books and great writers. Though I think they are important, they should not be the only ways of finding the greatest of voices in the literary world.