Writing for the world

Chigozie Obioma, photo Sergi Alcazar Badia

In a 2016 essay for The Guardian, 34-year-old Nigerian novelist Chigozie Obioma argues against a trend in world literature of writers not explaining cultural and geographic details to readers who don’t already share their lived experiences. While this sensibility can stem from an understandable annoyance with American and European readers’ desire to have lesser-known cultures endlessly explained to them, Obioma says a writer’s refusal to write vividly results in a failure to tell a complete story — and ultimately limits one’s audience. Obioma, an assistant professor of creative writing at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, is making an artistic and a political argument.

“I should write only what seems to me to be honest, and aim to craft a novel with the grace of the novels I admire. To me, this should be the aim of great fiction. To do otherwise is to negate the very nature of literature. Activist intrusion into the writer’s imagination always interferes with literary truth. I believe that fiction, with its untrammeled nature, speaks to no one, and by so doing, speaks to all.”

Both of Chigozie Obioma’s novels, The Fisherman (2015) and An Orchestra of Minorities (2018), were shortlisted for the Booker Prize. In the first, he writes about a family that has been cursed to live in fear and suspicion of one another; in the second, he writes of a chicken farmer obsessed with winning the hand of an aspiring pharmacist, as told from the point of view of the man’s chi, or guardian spirit.

Obioma reads from his work at the Harwood Museum of Art (238 Ledoux St., Taos) at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 14. Presented by the literary organization SOMOS, the weekend also includes workshops led by Obioma (for info, email somos@somostaos.org). Tickets to the reading are $10; 575-758-9826, somostaos.org

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