Our assistant editor, Uchenna Emelife, posed five questions to all the authors shortlisted for the 2023 edition of the Isele Prizes. The questions stretch from their writing processes, to the themes they are most drawn to, their inspirations, and more.
See Adorah Oduah’s responses. She is the author of “Lagos City Girls Never Pay For Pasta”.
Uchenna Emelife: Could you talk about the shortlisted work, its writing process and what informed it?
Adorah Oduah: Lagos City Girls Never Pay for Pasta is a piece that has been gestating for years. Several iterations of it have existed at different stages of my life – as words on my notes app scribbled through sleep deprivation, rants disguised as blog posts on my medium profile, and conversations with complete strangers at house parties. It became a piece of work after months of self-tutoring on how to write good narrative nonfiction.
It went from loosely connected ideas about women, food and post colonial Nigeria, to a fully fleshed-out piece after an interesting conversation with a substitute lover. He was talking about how his sister-in-law called Lagos women ‘grabby’ and it tickled me because 1) he agreed and 2) it was ironic that he in particular agreed because he had used his wealth as his unique selling point during our brief courtship.
The layers of ironic audacity neatly pressed into that interaction represented the exact dynamics between women, men, food and love in Nigeria that I had never been able to articulate until then, so I captured that audacious relationship as best as I could.
UE: How do you tell a work is ready to meet the world?
AO: I know the work is ready to meet the world when I’ve exhausted the last of my obsession, because the truth is the work is never complete, just ready.
UE: What does writing mean to you?
AO: Freedom. For me writing is the way in and the way out, the stories we tell are maps and north stars for the people coming after us.
UE: If you could only write about one thing, what would you write and why?
AO: Power. I believe the ability to understand what power really is, i.e asymmetric relationships of influence, is the difference between mental life and death. We live in a world where power is always covert, even when it’s loud it is eventually quieted by normalcy and the belief that ‘this is just the way things are’. I aim to always unmask the power elephant in the room with my writing, like a detective on safari in the serengeti, khaki pants, magnifying glass and all.
UE: Whose works speak to you? Why? And how do they do that?
AO: Ijeoma Umebinyuo’s beautiful poetry collection called ‘Questions for Ada’. Her work is the embodiment of how vulnerability is strength. I go back to it as a reminder to always be brave.
About the Authors:
Uchenna Emelife: Uchenna Emelife is a literary curator, an arts administrator, a bookseller, and a human rights advocate. He is the co-founder and creative director of Book O’clock — a literary platform in Sokoto that hosts a literary blog, book clubs, and a bookstore. In 2021, he co-curated the first Book and Arts Festival in Sokoto and was nominated as Mediapreneur of the Year in the Founder of the Year Awards. Uchenna Emelife is as well an advocate for Child Rights, Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, and anti-Sexual and Gender-based Violence. As a fellow of the African Youth Adolescent Network (AfriYAN), he has been contracted for various virtual campaigns to support the cause by Education as a Vaccine and United Nations Population Fund (UNPA).
Adaorah Oduah is a writer and podcaster based in Lagos Nigeria. Her work has been featured in Food & Wine Magazine, Punch Drink Magazine and Ampersand LA. She co-hosts a podcast that uses west African food to talk about women’s history, pop culture, and politics called Uncooked Women.