BY THE BOOK: James Ogunjimi - Daily Nation

BY THE BOOK: James Ogunjimi

Friday January 12 2018

James Ogunjimi is a Nigerian writer, editor, film critic and political analyst. PHOTO| COURTESY

James Ogunjimi is a Nigerian writer, editor, film critic and political analyst. PHOTO| COURTESY 

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James Ogunjimi is a Nigerian writer, editor, film critic and political analyst. His writings have been published in Brittle Paper, Kalahari Review, Sahara Reporters, Pambazuka press, Praxis Magazine for Arts and Literature, Bewildering Stories Magazine, Rise Networks, Freedom Writers, African Spotlight, Premium Times and The Nation.

Ogunjimi is a former editor with PraxisMagazine, former Managing Editor of TimesAfricanInternational and former columnist with HappeningsMagazine. He is the co-founder of AfriReviews, Africa’s first and only all-Africa movie review platform. His novel, A Wall Is Just a Wall is set to be released in February 2018 by Bahati Books.

He spoke to about his literary favourites and fantasies.


Do you consider yourself an African writer?

Yes, I do. I know some writers see being called African writers as being put in a box, but I don’t. From Taiye Selasi to Chigozie Obioma who after writing about fishermen in a Nigerian village, asked: “Who should I write for?”. I am African, why should I have a problem with being called an African writer?

Which two books do you hold so dear that they can’t possibly be lent out?

For me, this changes regularly. Right now, it’s Dinaw Mengestu’s All Our Names and Farah Nuruddin’s Crossbones.

What would you consider your favourite 2017 reads, why?

Sunil Yapa’s Your Heart Is A Muscle The Size of A Fist is top on this list. The book started off explosive and didn’t stop till the last page. The energy and fierceness contained in that book shook me. The style used by the author was beautiful as well. You ran with him, paused with him and ran out of breath with him.

Dinaw Mengestu’s 2014 novel, AllOurNames is another. The perfect depiction of how you can become something or someone you are fighting is a regular reminder of the things that plague us on the continent.

Why do you write?

I write because I have things to say that the books I see are either not saying or are not saying well enough. Those who know me well and read me on social media can always find fragments of who I am in my writings.

Your childhood favourite books?

TheDocument, I’ve forgotten who wrote it. It’s a book about a policeman in Nigeria who was caught in a gang war.

RaliatheSugarGirl was another book I enjoyed. Almost all Nigerians read it. Then Fagunwa’s OgbojuOdeNinuIgboIrunmole is an all-time favorite. Nobel Laurette, Prof Soyinka later translated it into English but I actually loved and enjoyed the Yoruba version.

If you were to dine with three writers, dead or alive, who would they be and why?

I’ll choose to dine with the Late Fagunwa for the way his mind works. I mean, someone needs to ask what he was thinking before writing an adventure of that nature. Ngugi Wa Thiong’o  is another reader I want to sit with and pick his brain. I feel like he’s the last intellectual writer we have left and if I get a chance to sit and talk with him, it’ll be one of the best days of my life.

If you were sent off to Robben Island for a year, which three books would you take with you and why?

I’ll go with Paul Beatty’s TheSellout because it is deep and hilarious. But beyond that, it forces you to think and who knows, I just might come out with three manuscripts. Okey Ndibe’s ForeignGods Inc. is another. The third one will have to be Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People.

Do you think literary prizes are significant?

Of course. Literary prizes serve as motivation to writers in a continent that does so little for its writers. While literary prizes may be good, the way it is organized leaves much to be desired.

Allocating huge amounts of money as winning prize without sparing a thought for the development of literary structures in that country or even improving the publishing structure makes the prizes look like winning a lottery.

What, in your opinion, is the importance of literary journals?

I think literary journals are incubating pods for writers. Literary journals also provide us with lots of good writing. And because all journals have different requirements and focus, they provide us with diverse writings that spice up the literary community and for some, give them their big break.


BY THE BOOK is a literary series that covers authors, bloggers, actors, academics and poets of note in the African continent. For comments or inquiries, e-mail: [email protected]