Chika Unigwe the award winning author of “On Black Girl’s Street” is a Nigerian-born resident of Belgium. A fiction writer and a poet, she has received global commendation for her literary works. Her awards and commendations include the 2003 BBC Short Story Award; the 2003 Commonwealth Short Story Competition Highly Commended Award; the 2004 Caine Prize shortlist; the 2005 Million Writers Notable Story Award for online fiction, a Roy booker’s award, the 2005 Million Writers Top Ten Award for online fiction; and the 3rd prize in the 2006 Equiano Short Story Competition. Her short fiction in Dutch was one of ten works selected in the 2004 VDAB Schrijfwedstrijd in Belgium. In November 2012, she bagged the coveted NLNG prize of a $100,000 for her novel, “On Black Sisters Street.” Chika talks to Konnect Africa on life as a writer, wife and mother.
KA: Do tell us about your childhood. Where you were born? Where were you educated?
Chika: I was born in Enugu, went to Primary School there and Secondary School at FGGC, Abuja. I earned a B.A in English Language and Literature from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, an MA in English Language and Culture from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium and a PhD in English Language and Literature from the University of Leiden, Holland.
KA: What inspires you to put pen to paper? And when did you first say, “Wow, I can spend the rest of my life doing this?”
Chika: Life inspires me. I observe people, I listen. I am a news junkie as well, and a shameless eavesdropper. I find inspiration everywhere. I always wanted to be a writer. As an undergrad, I spent holidays writing columns for my Dad’s friend’s Newspaper.
KA: Do you ever tire of writing? Does it ever bore you? The drudgery of pecking a keyboard all day cannot be entirely pleasant. What keeps you going even when your fingers grow weary?
Chika: No I never tire of writing because I don’t spend every minute writing. I am not even that structured; I work a certain number of hours a day. I make out time to read, go out, and do other things. Writing is my career and no one must ever let their career become their entire life.
KA: Ever had the dreaded “Writers Block?”
Every writer probably does, but when I can’t write, I read. I find inspiration in reading new works and re-reading old favorites.
KA: Before you became the household name you are now, how did you sell your work to the publishing houses that published your books?
Chika: I have an agent in the UK, David Godwin. He was the one who sold Arundathi the Roy’s Booker-Winning “God of Small Things”.
KA: Poor publishing plagues the Nigerian literary industry. What, if any avenues do you envision as a cure to this ailment?
Chika: I am not an expert on this but let me say this: every reputable publishing house needs to invest in excellent editors.
KA: Tell us about winning the NLNG prize for 2012. I must tell you that it brought Chika Unigwe to our consciousness in a very real way.
Chika: I am a very uncertain writer. I sweat over every word, every sentence. Winning that prize is a validation that perhaps all that sweating is worth it.
KA: What inspired the award winning story, “On Black Sisters’s Street”, and where can it be purchased in and around Africa? How long did it take to write?
Chika: I was very curious about why Nigerian women would travel so far to work in the sex industry. Curiosity was the initial driving force. It took me over 2 years to write.
KA: You have written books in Dutch as well. Do you use a translator or has Dutch become a second or third language, because I am pretty certain it is not your first?
Chika: Dutch is my third language. English is still my preferred language for writing. I am much more at home in English as a writer than in any other language.
KA: You are a wife, a mother of four and a writer. How do you juggle this roles, and is there ever time for other extracurricular activities or business ventures?
Chika: I am not unusual. Many women I know (and men) are multiple things at the same time. Whatever is important to you, you make out time for it. Part of growing up and becoming an adult, is that one learns to prioritize and one also learns to manage one’s life so that one is not too worn out to enjoy that life. [Words to Live By!]
KA: So much I want to ask you…but I will conclude here- Inspire an African youth or writer with one sentence.
Chika: Keep writing!!!
KA: I can’t resist: Everybody seems to be writing one thing or the other these days with the advent of social media. How do you know you have got the goods?
Chika: Send out your works to journals, have trusted friends read through; join a writing group.
KA: Great to have you on our forum Ma’am.
Chika: You are welcome and thanks for the interest.