Books, and an Interview with Nnedi Okorafor

This is a Worldbuilders blog.

Nnedi Okorafor was one of the very first writers I met when I was starting my publishing career. We both won places in Volume 18 of Writers of the Future back in 2002, and we met out at the workshop in LA.

I think I even have a picture of us back then at the award Ceremony. Let me see if I can find it….

(Awww…. Look at us. We’re cute as fluffy puppies…)

Nnedi’s a dynamo, and way tougher than I am. After I got my master’s degree, I left academia behind me, shaking the dust from my feet. But Nnedi got her PhD.

In fact, she got her PHD, had a baby, and launched her writing career pretty much all at the same time. Like I said: Dynamo.

But in addition to that, she’s a lot of fun. So when I started thinking of doing interviews for Worldbuilders, I thought of Nnedi….

Heya Nnedi. Let’s say you’re at a party and you meet someone you wanted to impress. What sort of things about your writing career would you casually drop into the conversation to prove that you’re awesome?

I’d mention that I won some awards and stuff and that I like to write about a Nigeria enslaved by juju-powered computers.

Which awards have you won? Anything super-cool?

My novel, Zahrah the Windseeker, won the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature. That was cool because not only did I win $20,000 but I was flown to Nigerian for a ceremony where I got to meet one of my greatest idols, Sub-Saharan Africa’s first Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka. Coolest day ever.

My children’s book, Long Juju Man, won the Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa. Last month, the University of Illinois gave me a Special Recognition Award. I’ve also been a finalist for the Tiptree Award, Golden Duck Award, Andre Norton Award, WSFA Small Press Award, Theodore Sturgeon Award, Essence Magazine Literary Award, an NAACP Image Award, blah blah.

Wow. That’s a lot of mojo. Back in the sixth grade I won an award for doing the best lip sync in my com class, but you’ve totally got that beat.

Uh, dude, you also won the freakin’ Quill Award and were a NYT bestseller. Can’t forget those, man. ;-)

They just gave me the Quill because I’m pretty. What are you reading right now?

Otherland by Tad Williams. I read the series back when it first came out. My disgust with District 9 made me want to reread it; to wash away the grime. It’s working. Next up, King’s Under the Dome.

If you had to pick your favorite book of all time, what would it be?

The Talisman by Stephan King and Peter Straub. I first read it when I was twelve. That book unlocked a door in me that will never close. I still return to it every so often, despite the character of Speedy Parker being a “Magical Negro”, heh.

That’s a term I first heard of because of you, but not a lot of people know about it. Care to explain?

There are five points I came up with to spot a Magical Negro. Speedy Parker hits them all (well, number 3 is a little shaky until Black House). Here they are:

1. He or she is a person of color, typically black, often Native American, in a story about predominantly white characters.

2. He or she seems to have nothing better to do than help the white protagonist, who is often a stranger to the Magical Negro at first.

3. He or she disappears, dies, or sacrifices something of great value after or while helping the white protagonist.

4. He or she is uneducated, mentally handicapped, at a low position in life, or all of the above.

5. He or she is wise, patient, and spiritually in touch. Closer to the earth, one might say. He or she often literally has magical powers.

Check out my essay, “Stephen King’s Super-Duper Magical Negroes”, on the Strange Horizons website here.

If you lost a bet and had to stand under Neil Gaiman’s window at midnight and serenade him. What song would you pick?

Lady Ga Ga’s “Poker Face”, the acoustic version.

Which would you rather do: cut out 20% of your current book, or insert a wacky talking animal sidekick (a la Disney movie) into half the chapters because the marketing people think it would make the book sell better.

Hey, I write for Disney (The Shadow Speaker is published by Disney and I’m writing a Disney Fairy chapter book titled Iridessa and the Fire-Bellied Dragon Frog). :-P. Plus I love wacky talking sidekick animals! I’ve got one in The Shadow Speaker. Well, Onion (Ejii’s camel) speaks in monotone and with very very few words but yeah. :-D.

Heh. I’ve read Shadow Speaker, but I never thought of the Ejii’s camel in the same vein as the classic Disney animal sidekick.

True. Onion’s nothing like Abu in Aladdin or Mu-Shu the Dragon in Mulan. But I think the wacky Disney side-kick can be an asset when done with some finesse.

I like the idea of a sh*t-talking parrot or miniature hedgehog who makes no sense whenever she speaks. Or how about a jive-talking black monkey whose catchphrase is “AW DAAAYAUM”?

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?

At a book signing, a grown man once told me that my YA novel Zahrah the Windseeker made him see spiders and insects everywhere he went for days. Ha ha, he looked relatively sane, but I guess you never know.

What’s the most hurtful thing someone has ever said in a review of your book?

This white guy (won’t mention names), once wrote that he wouldn’t read my novels because it’s full of black people and had no white characters to “balance it out”. Nice.

If you could punch one literary figure, who would it be?

HA HA HA HA! OMG, dare I answer this…nah. My response would be absolutely SCANDALOUS.

Aww… Come on. You tell me yours and I’ll tell you mine…

Believe me, you wouldn’t believe who it is. It would be very very bad press for me to speak the name. It’s utter blasphemy. But it makes me giggle that this name was the first thing to instantly pop into my head when I considered your question.

Okay. I don’t want to get you in trouble…

The poet Edith Sitwell used to lie in an open coffin each day before she started writing. Do you have any little rituals that help you write?

I have a lot of rituals. An interesting one is that I must turn on my space heater and set it right beside me. Even during most of the summer days. I need to be hot when I write. Ok, that sounds kind of suggestive. Heh, you know what I mean.

Through an effort of pure will, I’ll resist the urge to make the obvious joke….

I recently made a joke about “transition putty” on my blog. That being, of course, the what we writers buy at Home Depot to smooth out our rough transitions.

If you could have some sort of handyman tool like that, something like Plot Spackle or a Character Level. What would it be?

Natural-Looking Filler for those tough glaring gaps between the exciting parts of the story where crazy sh*t happens.

You can just say shit if you want. We’re all friends here. Nobody’s going to judge you.

Yeah, I figured it was ok with you. It’s just that I judge myself. I was raised to never use profanity, so it’s still odd for me. Ironically, I’m a big fan of cursing; it’s one of the reasons I enjoy hip-hop so much. I do most of my cursing in my fiction. Like in my short story, “On the Road” in the Eclipse 3 Anthology.

Hmmm… Now that you mention it. I cuss a lot in real life, but not very much in my books. I wonder if there’s a connection.

There is!

Maybe I need to save some of my cussing, so I can put it into a book later. I didn’t know it was a finite resource…. Anyway, that’s all I’ve got. Thanks so much for the interview, and thanks for donating some books to the cause.

:-). And thank you for putting it all together. I’m happy to be a part of it.

“Okorafor-Mbachu’s imagination is stunning.” – the New York Times

Remember folks, for every 10 dollars you donate to Heifer International, you get a chance to win hundreds of books like these: some signed, some limited edition, some out of print. Plus there’s the whole helping make the world a better place thing. That’s nice too.

And don’t forget, I’m matching 50% of all donations made. So why not head over to my page at Team Heifer and chip in. Trust me. You’ll feel great afterward.

Or, if you want to go back to the main page for Worldbuilders, you can click HERE.

With thanks to our sponsor, Subterranean Press.

(I keep trying to write a limerick, but nothing rhymes with Subterranean.)
This entry was posted in recommendations, Subterranean Press, Worldbuilders 2009By Pat21 Responses


  1. Vae
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 6:29 AM | Permalink

    wow, very cool pat. yet another book i will have to pick up and read now :) thanks for this. I think its really cool, you interviewing other writers. very cool indeed. i look forward to more interviews. do you think you can get brandon sanderson? Abercrombie’s was fantastic.

    will be looking forward to the next blog of awesomeness :) oh and HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

  2. Laura
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 6:48 AM | Permalink

    Happy New Year! Indeed!
    (BTW: very interesting interview)

  3. Zack Truel
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 7:16 AM | Permalink

    Nothing rhymes? What about…

    “Subterranean, quite Entertainin’!!!”

    You like making up words so why can’t I? ;)

  4. V
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 7:25 AM | Permalink

    Hail the press Subterranean/
    Its sunny aspect mediterranean/
    For to team heifer they donate/
    And to Pat they are a great mate/
    With contributions bookish,fictional and draconian

    Yeah, Ok, I’m forcing the rhyme a bit, and it isnt even a little bit rude or scatalogical- but then again, I dont want to be MAKING FUN of them.

    Nnedi Okorufor sounds fun. I’ll look out for her books.

  5. V
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 7:33 AM | Permalink

    Umm.. I should have mentioned that I am usually the normally unpublished meaning of draconian, that is “by, with, from, or pertaining to the species Draccus”.
    Sorry. The “making up words’ bugs bites all….

  6. Juhan
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 10:38 AM | Permalink

    There IS a connection between cussing in real life and in fiction, she is absolutely right! I cuss non-stop in real life, but characters in my fiction (I’m an aspiring writer) are relatively polite. So… Pat, please cuss less in real life. :D

  7. Deborah Wolf
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 2:08 PM | Permalink

    Subterranean…Lithuanian. Not very helpful. :D

  8. Deborah Wolf
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 2:19 PM | Permalink

    Pat sent me a book Subterranean
    Hand scripted in modern Iranian
    It makes sense, he said
    His face turning red
    But only in old Lithuanian

    *meh* needs coffee

  9. Vulpes Fulva
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 2:20 PM | Permalink

    Another fun interview. I will have to give her literature a read.

  10. Anonymous
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 2:32 PM | Permalink

    Nice stuff.

    Is that a gag between you two to never write her last name the accurate or the same way as before? ^^

    greets and a happy new year, mukk

  11. Gretchen
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 3:11 PM | Permalink

    Hah, aww now I’m dying to know who the literary person Nnedi would punch in the face is! Oh well.

    I love Nnedi’s books, glad to see Shadow Speaker in the Worldbuilders pool!

    Great interview questions, Pat.

    Happy New Year!

  12. prelapsaria
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 3:19 PM | Permalink

    I enjoyed this very muchly. Yes I did. Will have to look her up! Esp since I have a nephew coming into YA reader status soon.

  13. Jay Belt
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 4:14 PM | Permalink

    What’s the most hurtful thing someone has ever said in a review of your book?

    This white guy (won’t mention names), once wrote that he wouldn’t read my novels because it’s full of black people and had no white characters to “balance it out”. Nice.

    WOW. That’s just… Wow…

    That there are people like that on this earth is just sad. Never mind the other hundreds of thousands of books out there full of white characters with no black characters in it to “balance it out”. It’s seriously sad that a critic would be so ignorant.

    Oh and I tend to cuss an equal amount in my writing and IRL. I guess I’m an exception to the rule. But then again, my prose doesn’t read like Pat’s splendiferous, beautiful construction of language…

    (That’s a pretty good suck up, amiright? Happy New Year Everyone!)

  14. John Goodwin
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 6:02 PM | Permalink

    Hi Pat – Great interview on Nnedi. She remains one of my favorite new writers from Writers of the Future — along with you, of course!
    Happy New Year and I look forward to seeing you hopefully at next year’s Writers of the Future event.

  15. Pamala Knight
    Posted December 31, 2009 at 11:01 PM | Permalink

    Thanks for the awesome interview. You two are funny and that picture is all kinds of cute. I’m off to repeat my mantra of “I hope I win something, I hope I win something…”

    Happy New Year.

  16. TansyRR
    Posted January 4, 2010 at 12:01 AM | Permalink

    This is one of the most entertaining author interviews I’ve read in ages! I really enjoyed it, and I must remember to get the Iridessa book for my daughter when it comes out.

  17. Joy Slezak
    Posted January 4, 2010 at 1:56 PM | Permalink

    There once was a troll named Flannigan,
    he lived in a hole subterranean.
    A bat took flight
    which gave him a fright,
    and as he jumped up hit his cranium.

4 Trackbacks

  • By Who Fears Death? on June 15, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    […] Some of you might remember Nnedi’s name because of the fun little interview I did with her a couple months ago. […]

  • By Locus Magazine on August 23, 2010 at 11:13 AM

    […] then I found out my friend Nnedi was going to be Guest of Honor there this year. (Remember Nnedi? I interviewed her for Worldbuilders last year, and talked about her book a couple months ago.) Anyway, getting asked […]

  • By Fanmail Q&A: YA Recomendations on September 17, 2010 at 3:20 AM

    […] interviewed Nnedi Okorafor on the website before, and talked about some of her newer books. But this was her first book, which […]

  • […] Does Pat Get All Geeky About? 26) Books and Interview with Nnedi Okorafor: Pat interviews his friend and fellow Writers of the Future author, Nnedi way back in 2009. And […]

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