Nigerian novelist and author of Leave My Bones In Saskatoon, Michael Afenfia, says his latest novel on immigration was inspired by his experience and that of a few family members and friends: ‘I felt compelled to share what the japa experience can look like, particularly because not many people are comfortable talking about what the reality is versus what it is made out to be.’
First Draft is our interview column, featuring authors and other prominent figures on books, reading, and writing.
Our questions are italicized.
What books or kinds of books did you read growing up?
I read a lot of the classics growing up, mostly for school and as part of the educational curriculum. However, most of the books I read at home and for leisure came about because they were titles being read by my older siblings. So, I read books by authors such as Harold Robins, James Hadley Chase, Betha M. Clay, Robert Ludlum, Sidney Sheldon, Maria Puzo, and John Grisham. Of course, the younger me had read Enid Blyton and a lot of literature for young minds.
If your life so far was a series of texts, which text (fiction or non-fiction) represents you at this moment?
What’s the last thing you read that changed your mind about something?
I would say I Can’t Make This Up by Kevin Hart. Hart’s resilience and grit is inspiring.
Since moving to Canada, I too have noticed the switch in mindset. I believe that I am more open to exploring new themes.
What is your writing process: edit as you write or draft first, then edit?
For the most part, I like to edit as I write so it doesn’t get too difficult for me at the end.
What was your process for writing your latest novel, Leave My Bones In Saskatoon?
I worked mostly at night; I think. There were days I went into the library just to assume that air of seriousness and if research was required. Again, I edited as I went along and had a few friends read the manuscript in progress.
This novel explores the highs and lows of immigration. What inspired this story? I was inspired by my own experience and the experiences of a few family members and friends. In addition, at the time, I felt compelled to share what the japa experience can look like, particularly because not many people are comfortable talking about what the reality is versus what it is made out to be. Again, the experience is different for everyone and every family, so I am careful not to generalize.
As a Nigerian writer living in Canada, how has your multicultural experiences influenced your writing?
Since moving to Canada, I too have noticed the switch in mindset. I believe that I am more open to exploring new themes. I am also open to touching on subject matters I didn’t know enough about to write on and just expanding my sphere of comfort so I can reach a new readership while still satisfying the cravings of those readers that have been with me since the start of my writing journey.
What’s a common misconception about migration?
This perhaps is cliché, but I would say the perception that the grass is always greener on the other side. This isn’t always the case.
I am also open to touching on subject matters I didn’t know enough about to write on so I can reach a new readership while still satisfying the cravings of those readers that have been with me since the start of my writing journey.
What’s one book you think everyone should read before moving to a new country?
That would be my latest novel, Leave My Bones In Saskatoon. Just the other day, someone remarked that it is a must-read manual for anyone wanting to relocate.
Who are the young Nigerian writers you’re most excited about today?
I would say Miracle Emeka-Nkwor. She is the author of What Happened to Janet Uzor.
You also wrote the book, The Mechanics of Yenagoa. What books should anyone looking to discover Bayelsa, or the South South region of Nigeria read?
What book should everyone read before turning 21?
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. First, because War and Peace is such a masterpiece and a masterclass in historical fiction, I think every human on earth should read it. Secondly, it is such a voluminous book and I think it takes a lot of courage to tackle it. So, what better time to do this than when you are young and before life happens and you have other distractions competing for your time?
Do you have preferred genres and any genres you tend to steer clear of?
I don’t exactly have a preferred genre. I guess it all depends on my mood and who is recommending it.
What did you read while you were working on Leave My Bones In Saskatoon?
I read novels by Japanese writer, Haruki Murakami.
What books do you turn to for comfort?
Basically, anything I can lay my hands on.
What is the most meaningful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Don’t stop writing.
What’s one word, line or quote that captures how this year has gone for you?
Just the other day, someone remarked that Leave My Bones In Saskatoon is a must-read manual for anyone wanting to relocate.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working on a collection of short stories.
Question from Chimeka Garricks: If money was no object, what would you do with your life? PS: Being a writer is not an option?
I would adopt seven kids and give them a home.
Bonus: Please suggest a question for a future author’s First Draft.
If you could travel anywhere to write for six months, what destination would you pick?⎈
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