For many writers, the path to publication is fraught with rejection and interminable periods waiting for a response or decision. Not so for Chinelo Okparanta who was named one of Granta Magazine’s six New Voices for 2012.
Her upcoming story collection Happiness, Like Water, which she wrote while attending the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop, was sold, she says, “in a very non-dramatic, almost underwhelming sort of way.” Instead, the Amazon description of her book suggests all the excitement is reserved for the stories in her book. “In Happiness, Like Water Chinelo Okparanta offers a portrait of Nigeria that is surprising, shocking, heartrending, loving,” the abstract reads.
Coming August 13, 2013, Okparanta points to “Wahala!” and “Story, Story!” for the surprises promised in the synopsis, adding, “All the stories are quite a bit heartrending, but ‘Runs Girl’, ‘Grace’, ‘Tumors and Butterflies’ and ‘Shelter’ stick out to me as the most heartrending.”
Pre-order a copy here.
What sparked you to write Happiness, Like Water?
I wrote many, if not all, of the stories during my second year at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Each story had its own separate trigger–an incident, a memory, an emotion, a problem. Whatever the trigger, I made it a point to sit down and write, and to my surprise, the stories gushed out.
What was your process for writing Happiness, Like Water?
I wrote HLW while completing my MFA at Iowa… I’ve never set for myself a strict writing schedule, but I do find that my head is much clearer in the mornings than later in the day, and so I’ve gotten into the habit of writing as soon as I wake up. Of course, it’s not every morning that one sets out to write that one succeeds in getting any writing done.
What’s the short story of how Happiness, Like Water got published?
HLW was lucky. I was lucky. Editors and agents frequently visit the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and I was lucky to be signed by one of these visiting agents. Shortly after, I was lucky to have two stories picked up by a visiting editor. The timing was right. Eventually the book was sold–in a very non-dramatic, almost underwhelming sort of way.
Being from Nigeria, I’m sure you’ve been called an “African writer” at least once in your career. How do you feel about the term?
I’ve been called an African writer, yes. The term does not bother me insofar as I am in fact African and proud of my African-ness. But I am also aware that the term “African Writer”, like many other racial labels, can be limiting, constricting. In a sense, claustrophobic. This is the nature of categorization in general. Categories have a way of boxing us up, of creating divisions, of constructing walls that seem to say, “You belong there, but I here.” I understand that categories are also essential for acknowledging the existence of differences. They can be affirming, and so I appreciate them. In recent history, they have even been essential in the fight for equal rights of underrepresented groups. They have led to quite a bit of progress where that is concerned. However, I believe that it will be a sign of even more progress when we arrive at a point in which we no longer have to rely so heavily on them, not even as a marketing ploy.
What are you working on next?
A novel and a second collection of stories.
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