Nigerian-American author, Nnedi Okorafor is like Octavia Butler for millennials. Okorafor has published 11 critically acclaimed science fiction-fantasy novels. Her body of work includes the award-winning books: Zahra the Windseeker, The Book of Phoenix and Who Fears Death.
She uses her pen to give readers a new perspective of Africa. “The entirety of the science fiction-fantasy genre is based upon the overarching experience of the global African Diaspora. Enslaved peoples, colonization and genocide—with the women of the oppressed group at specific risk for being targets of sexual violence—are the usual narratives of the sci-fi-fantasy genre” notes The Root which recently interviewed Okorafor.
Here are five fun facts about Okorafor, her upbringing and her inspirations that have us in anticipation of her next novel.
She started writing after a life changing surgery:
“Around the age of 13, I was diagnosed with scoliosis. I was the state champion in tennis and a track star. Over time, the curvature of my spine became more extreme. After my first year of college, my doctors said I needed to have spinal surgery or my organs would collapse from the disease. After the surgery, I was paralyzed from the waist down. I was in the hospital for a month, and eventually over time, the sensation in my legs returned, but I could no longer play competitive sports. The only way I could stay sane was to start writing little stories.”
Her Nigerian culture is always referenced in her writing:
“When I traveled to Nigeria, I would see Nigerians interacting with technology in a way that I was not seeing reflected in literature. I was not seeing Africa as a whole reflected in writing about the future. Being an American, I knew of science fiction. The foundation was already there. The thing that kicked me into writing it was not the existing sci fi, but considering Nigeria and wanting to see Africa in the future.”
Her parents were successful athletes who immigrated to America for college but started their family here because of the Nigerian Civil War:
My mom was known throughout Africa for the javelin and also made the Nigerian Olympic team. My dad was a nationally known hurdler. They came to the United States in 1969 for school and planned to go back to Nigeria. But then they got stuck here because of the Nigerian Civil War. My parents consistently took us back to Nigeria, to a country full of all black people who were our relatives. Those trips helped us understand that the world was bigger than the racism we were experiencing in Chicago (as the first black family in their suburban neighborhood) and allowed us to see various perspectives.
One of her books is an ode to a jellyfish, another was in response to a film:
The movie District 9, which portrayed Nigeria so awfully, was the beginning of Lagoon. I began to think about aliens [and what it] would really be like if they did come to Nigeria. Binti was inspired by a trip to the United Arab Emirates, which was the first time I saw a jellyfish out in the wild. I wanted to pay homage to that jellyfish. But it was also really inspired by my leaving Chicago to come to Buffalo, N.Y.
She wants readers to be open minded and think outside of the box:
“It’s not that the writers aren’t there. The writers have been there. They are there. But the gatekeepers have kept people out. And it’s an audience problem: Audiences seem to be used to a certain type of narrative, a certain kind of main character—a certain type of everything. And those certain types don’t include people of color. So when people of color are written, there is usually some kind of filter they are seen through—whether written by a white author or watered down until it’s comfortable”