Interview by Nicole Melanson ~
Anthonia C. Kalu is a professor in the Department of African American and African Studies at the Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. She is a past president of the African Literature Association. Her research interests include African and African American literatures and literary theory construction, Women in the African Diaspora and African development issues. Her awards include a Ford Foundation postdoctoral fellowship, a Rockefeller writer-in-residence fellowship and a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Fellowship for teachers.
Anthonia’s published works include articles in journals like Africa Today, Research in African Literatures, African Studies Review, the Atlantic Literary Review, Seminar and the Literary Griot. Other publications include Women, Literature and Development in Africa (Africa World Press, 2001); Broken Lives and Other Stories (Ohio University Press, 2003); and the Rienner Anthology of African Literature (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2007). The anthology, which won ForeWord Magazine’s Book of the Year Award (2007) in the reference category, is the first work of its kind in African literature. She is also co-editor of Reflections: An Anthology of New Works by African Women Poets (2013), and the eBook, Chinua Achebe: A Tribute (1930-2013) (Amazon KDP).
HOW DID YOU GET STARTED AS A WRITER?
I’ve always loved writing. As a child growing up in Nigeria, I used to write short stories in my English exercise book and share with my classmates. My father, who was a teacher of English, encouraged my writing. My mother, also a teacher, was great with oral narratives and used to entertain us with her vast knowledge of the tradition. I grew up loving words and narrative.
I also read a great deal – the usual fare for Nigerian school children was Enid Blyton, the Brothers Grimm, the abridged Swan editions of Aesop’s Fables and similar works in the European traditions. I read extensively in my father’s library, which was filled with the classics, including Shakespeare. I remember reading an unabridged copy of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations when I was eight years old; I read it with a great deal of enthusiasm even though I did not understand most of the story or the setting. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped was a favorite, as were stories by Rudyard Kipling. But I came to a strong sense of self-awareness about narratives and writing when, toward the end of elementary school, I received Camara Laye’s The African Child as an award at school and, as I read that book, our storytelling sessions with my mother began to make sense.
WHAT IS YOUR LATEST BOOK OR CURRENT PROJECT?
I’ve been working on a story about contemporary Igbo (Nigeria) life. I don’t have much time to write fiction because my day job pays the bills. My current and major focus is on academic writing. I’m working on a manuscript about African literary history. The working title is African Mind-Scape: Explorations in African Literary History.
WHEN DO YOU WORK?
Mostly after I finish preparing for my classes and in between grading papers and office hours.
WHAT IS YOUR WRITING PROCESS?
I do not really have a process, as such. I write when I can find enough time to think through an idea. Most times, I work on several ideas at a time because it takes me some time to think through a plot or a theoretical framework. My ideas usually come in chunks. This means that most of my writing is completed in one draft. It is a very slow way to work but it also means that anything I write is completed as soon as I can find the space and time to push the ideas through to usable (for me!) form.
WHY DO YOU WRITE?
I enjoy the idea of putting words together to get some meaning out there to share my sense of narrative with other readers and writers.
WHO OR WHAT INSPIRES YOU?
My family. And completing a challenging writing project of any kind. It’s always an awe-inspiring moment when I begin to see the light start to shine (literally) through a piece that I’m working on. At those moments, it’s as if the work has a life of its own; as though it is breathing.
WHAT IS THE HARDEST PART OF WHAT YOU DO?
Finding time to write more frequently.
WHAT IS YOUR VISION AS A WORD ARTIST OR BOOK INDUSTRY PROFESSIONAL?
To write one or more novels that will bring about a change in the way that Nigeria and Africa are perceived at home and abroad. I want to write a new kind of story; one that uses the difficult local histories to create a new outlook for a more enabling future for African peoples all over the world.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHOR WOULD YOU LOVE TO HEAR MORE FROM?
Reneilwe Malatji – from South Africa. I think she has great potential as a writer/storyteller.
WHICH FEMALE AUTHOR WOULD YOU LIKE TO SEE INTERVIEWED ON WORDMOTHERS NEXT?
Thank you, Anthonia Kalu!
— Nicole Melanson
* Author photo by Ohio State University Communications
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