Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia is a law professor whose love for storytelling is aptly demonstrated in this debut novel, The Son of the House, which made to the last three for The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2021. She shares her ideas about writing and her book in this interview with AnoteArtHub
YOU have made it to the last three of The Nigeria Prize for Literature 2021. Did you expect it and how anxious are you at this stage in view of the two oppositions you face?
I am happy and thankful to have got this far in the competition. It says something about the positive and warm welcome this book has received not only from regular, everyday people but also from a critical perspective. As a writer, it is heartwarming and an encouragement. As for expecting it, I hoped, but there were also good books on the list. There is little to be gained now from anxiety, it is not likely to move the needle in one direction or the other.
Why do you write?
I longed to be a writer from childhood. I am moved by stories, and what it means to be human in the world. Writing, with its tool of language, is one important means of sharing stories about how we carry and exhibit humanity, how we happen to the world and how it happens to us. I am grateful to be able to write.
What would you say writing has done for you and what do you hope that writing would still do for you?
As I answered above, writing is one way that I interact with the world, writing and reading. It gives me a medium in which to convey our stories. In that sense, it is both what I do and one of the things that gives meaning to life.
Why do you think your book should be the one that emerges the winner of the prize?
I will have to refrain from answering this. It sounds too much like one of those questions on TV game shows where one has to show one-upmanship.
What do you hope to do with the USD$100,000 money that comes with the prize?
I haven’t quite thought this far. I suppose if I win, I can spend some time thinking about this.
How does your book reflect contemporary challenges and what ways do you suggest out of them?
My book is in a sense historical, though it is recent history. Many of the themes remain contemporary challenges, however. Underage girls still serve as domestic servants. A woman’s place in inheritance is still not firmly assured in communities around the country. And, while gradually changing, the prime place of sons still persists in certain areas. I think telling stories and allowing people to see…
You painted a bleak picture of girls who get some sort of redemption as women in your book. Do you think society is against girls/women as you tend to portray it?
I think my book, or the stories in my book, are only one or some perspective, a few stories out of many, but important stories that we must recognise. I think there is definitely a degree of misogyny that is not often recognised or called by that name. It is insidious, deep-rooted, sometimes visceral, other times hiding in plain sight in various guises. You need only look at our political space to see a snippet of it, or listen to the utterances of politicians, or scan through social media, or work in gender-based violence, amongst other spaces.
Who and what are your influences as a writer?
Life. People. The stories I heard and saw as a child. Those I hear and see today. I have said elsewhere that in terms of writing influences, I am sentimental about the authors I read as a child: Onadipe, Achebe, Amadi, Nwapa, Emecheta, Ekwensi, but also those I read on getting older – Marquez, Mantel, Mostly, amongst many others.
How much would you say The Nigeria Prize for Literature has energized writing in the country?
The prize money is definitely a draw. And you can imagine why. I do think much more could be done in the form of readings, incentivizing publishers perhaps with a prize, supporting the work of the longlisted and shortlisted authors. At the minimum, I definitely think much more could be done to promote longlisted and shortlisted books, especially when there is a single prize. Being listed should take the books from obscurity to notoriety and make it a win for the excellent books to both lists.
You are a law professor who is telling stories. Should we expect law-centered fiction writing from you soon?
I am not sure. We will see.