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.

Zary Fekete is the author of “My Street Food Lady”.

Uchenna Emelife: Could you talk about the shortlisted work, its writing process and what informed it? 

Zary Fekete: I spent a number of years working in China, and during my time there I was fortunate to meet many Chinese people in various works of life. As is true in many countries, there is a distinctive hierarchy of life for citizens of China depending on how much wealth or opportunity they have available to them. It was tremendously eye-opening for me to spend time with some of the street food vendors who operated near where I lived in northern Beijing. I wanted to write about their life-experience in some manner. This is what led to my writing of this particular piece.

UE: How do you tell a work is ready to meet the world?

ZF: When I finish writing a piece I am usually very excited to share it immediately, and I must caution myself because it is rarely ready after the first draft. I enjoy the revising process because the later drafts are always better. I also have a group of friends who are also writers and we share and critique our stories in this writers’ circle. After I have edited my own pieces and shared them with my group then I begin to sense if a piece is truly ready to be read more widely.

UE: What does writing mean to you?

ZF: I love storytelling. Writing is one form of telling a story. Because writing is usually a slower process, word-choice and sentence structure allow for unique ways to get across simple or complex truths. At its best, writing is a way to put thoughts into the world.

UE: If you could only write about one thing, what would you write and why?

ZF: My answer is “spiritual truth”. I define this as a kind of truth which can be instinctively understood even if one does not fully understand everything about it. There are some things which I believe people know on a spiritual, deeper level. I love writing about these things.

UE: Whose works speak to you? Why? And how do they do that?

ZF: Recently I have loved reading Sarah Manguso’s works (Very Cold People and The Two Kinds of Decay). She builds her sentences and paragraphs very precisely. I am also a huge fan of Kang Zhengguao who wrote Confessions: An Innocent Life in Communist China

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).

Zary Fekete…

…grew up in Hungary.

…has a debut chapbook of short stories out from Alien Buddha Press and a novelette (In the Beginning) coming out in May from ELJ Publications.

…enjoys books, podcasts, and long, slow films. Twitter: @ZaryFekete