Growing up in Nigeria, Chika Unigwe‘s favourite song was American rap band Salt-N-Pepa’s ‘Let’s talk about sex’. But she was not allowed to sing it in her conservative Nigerian household. So she would replace the word ‘sex’ with ‘bread’ and hum to herself: “Let’s talk about bread, baby”.
Naturally, when she later moved to Belgium, the country served up a proper cultural shock. Here, the author saw African women her age seduce men through huge display windows. When she went to a cafe they would frequent to introduce herself as a writer with a white husband, none of them believed her. “They thought I was one of theirs,” said the fashionable US-based author, Unigwe in her endearing Nigerian accent while talking about the journey behind her acclaimed book about African prostitutes working in Belgium titled ‘On Black Sisters’ Street’.
“These women didn’t see themselves as victims. They saw themselves as having a certain level of agency,” added Unigwe to spontaneous applause at a fun-filled session on the art of fiction Writing on Sunday.
Moderated by writer Chandrahas Choudhary, the panel brought together diverse minds—American authors Amy Tan and Joshua Ferris, English writer Helen Fielding of Bridget Jones‘ Diaries fame and Sri Lankanborn Canadian poet Michael Ondaatje—unified by the self-doubt and the dread that the process of writing fiction inevitably entails.
“Some books are like banging your head against the wall. But there is something occult about the process of writing, especially the first book,” said Ferris, who was at his wittiest best when asked about his book ‘Then We Came to the End’, a comedy about the workplace told in first-person plural. Recounting that the message on the office phone of his father’s business enterprise used to say “We have stepped out” and his father telling him: “When you are an office of one, you can’t admit to that”, Ferris said that he was always skeptical of “we” claims.
Fielding—who gave the world a spunky glossary of terms via Bridget Jones-—said she came up with ‘singleton’ because “there was no name for a woman who was single in her thirties due to a variety of socio-economic factors” and didn’t explain the genealogy of “emotional f**kwitage” because it is “quite obvious”. While Fielding—who visits cafes to write—has to tell herself, “I have been published before”, to make the process of writing easier, self-doubt-ridden Unigwe promises herself rewards (like a pair of shoes) at the end of meeting her stipulated daily word limit.
On success, though, the panel appeared divided. Ondaatje felt “gradual success is better than a sudden one” while Ferris—the protagonists of whose books include a dentist who stares at death through the bad teeth of his patients—suggested that success isn’t a room you go to. “It is like a foreign country that you travel to and come back from. It makes you want to go home sometimes,” said Ferris, advising the crowd to forget about the success bit and just write.
Source : timesofindia