Chibundu Onuzo – The Queen of the Pen
Critically acclaimed young author, Chibundu Onuzo, sits down with us to discuss the inspiration behind her first novel, The Spider King’s Daughter, as well as her opinions on class, national identity and the late Chinua Achebe.
Chibundu Onuzo is somewhat of a teenage prodigy. Whilst most of us cannot attribute ourselves to any groundbreaking feats aged 21, Onuzo has already started her journey into literary stardom. Often compared to the renowned Chimamanda Adichie, it is surprising Onuzo started her novel at the young age of 17.
Growing up in Lagos, Onuzo had a very strong connection to the city – the hustle, the bustle and the general chaos Lagosians love to hate. Aged 14 she moved to the UK in order to start Boarding School. It is at this time, separated from the place she once called home, that Onuzo felt the desire to write a novel that reminded her of her city. According to Onuzo, the inspiration behind The Spider King’s Daughter lies in her feelings of homesickness, the writing was simply a means through which she could express her nostalgia.
Onuzo is a proud Nigerian who admires the nonchalant and almost blasé way Nigerians approach life. Often full of pride and uncaring of others opinions Nigerians go through life with a loud and sometimes brash attitude, which is difficult to miss. Onuzo fondly recalls the famous Chinua Achebe story whereby he performed his own, in her words ‘mini Rosa Parks’ on a Zimbabwean segregated bus. When questioned as to why he broke the rules, he simply replied that he is Nigerian, and that in Nigeria, black people sit wherever they want. It is this common thread of pride and self-confidence that connects all Nigerians across the globe, despite location, beliefs or class according to Onuzo.
It would be criminal to discuss Nigeria and The Spider King’s Daughter without touching upon the issue of class. The novel accurately depicts the gap between the rich and the poor in Nigeria. In the words of Onuzo, Abike represents the ‘bubble’ that so many wealthy Nigerian’s live in; thus rendering those of a lower socio economic class, such the hawker, invisible and nameless. Onuzo admits she too is guilty of turning a blind eye to the hawkers in Nigeria. Growing up in her neighborhood in Lagos, she would walk past the same street sellers year after year without learning any of their names. Although to a westerner such a concept is foreign, and perhaps even troubling, it is just representative of the sociological structure of Nigeria. Onuzo is very insightful in the sense that she has experienced life in the Britain as well as Nigeria; consequently she can compare the social structures in both countries. Onuzo notes that class in Nigeria is much more flexible than class in the UK, in the sense that class in Nigeria is bound up with your assets, wealth and material goods. On the contrary, British class relates more to ones familial relations not necessarily wealth.
Indeed, the older generation of Nigerians are starting to realize that wealth can be acquired through many means according to Onuzo. Being an author and a recent history graduate Onuzo followed an unconventional route. Against the traditional advise of older aunts and uncles to follow a safer route of perhaps medicine or law, Onuzo represents the new age of Nigerians that are willing to step outside of the box and try something new. In fact, Onuzo notes that many successful Nigerians in the popular scene such as D’banj and Wizkid are proving that wealth can be acquired through unexpected routes. Such a mentality can only encourage more young Nigerians to explore their creativity and turn it into a viable means to make a living.
So what does the future hold for this young talented author? Onuzo prides herself on being flexible with her plans. She lives by the philosophy of taking one day at a time, as you never know what the future might bring. The only definitive plan she could share was her choir practice in the next hour, apart from that, she refuses to plan her future out in a rigid inflexible way. But when probed on a possible cinematic version of her book in the future, Onuzo claimed she would be more than happy to accept if the possibility arose. For now, Onuzo is enjoying life and education whilst we eagerly await (and hope for) more works of literature from the talented young writer.