“A Good Reader Makes A Great Writer” — An Interview With Chinyere Chukwudi-Okeh
8 mins read

“A Good Reader Makes A Great Writer” — An Interview With Chinyere Chukwudi-Okeh

Chinyere Chukwudi-Okeh is a Nigerian-published author. She is currently one of two women working with Honno Publishers to assemble memoirs from women of Asian and African descent. 

Chinyere Chukwudi-Okeh is the author of From the Crevices of Corps Hearts (Paressia Publishers) and other anthological writings in a short story collection titled International Sisi Eko and a Poetry Collection titled Soro Soke; An #ENDSARS Anthology.

Chinyere Chukwudi-Okeh
Chinyere Chukwudi-Okeh

Her short story, “To Buy an Expensive Dream” has been accepted into Honno’s Anthology of Short Stories project, and her creative nonfiction memoir, “When Ancestors Cross Borders”, is part of the submissions for Honno’s Diaspora Project.

Chinyere Chukwudi-Okeh graduated with distinction from the Creative Writing Course of Swansea University in 2022 and also works with the African Community Centre as the Project Manager for HarMINDise Project. She has also executed a creative project titled Diverse Voices, sponsored by the Art Council of Wales and delivered through the Race Council Cymru.

SiSi Eko
SiSi Eko

She is a Subcommittee Member(English) for the Book Council of Wales and a storyteller who also delivers creative ballads in spoken word. Chinyere has performed at Swansea University, Welsh Millenium Centre, Cardiff City Hall, Welsh Parliament, University of Wales Trinity St David, Grand Theatre, Waterfront Museum, and other venues across Wales. She is very committed to telling the African Story. Chinyere Chukwudi-Okeh is a celebrated writer and poet in less than five years of relocating and meeting King Charles.

Read: How To Write A Story

The Interview

In this interview with Amarachukwu Chimeka, Chinyere Chukwudi-Okeh points out a few things about her life as a writer. Enjoy.

What inspired you to become a writer?

CCO: Well, I grew up in Onitsha in Anambra State, surrounded by traders, apprentices, and young people dreaming of growing and joining their fathers in the markets and maintaining their family businesses. That was how commercial the city of Onitsha was. So naturally, young girls would grow and marry traders and own shops and businesses themselves. I wanted something different. I knew there was more out there for me than the accessible comfort of the common or ideal dream back in the day. Books saved me. I would read and then write my dreams and live them out through imaginary characters. The hunger for more propelled me to write and became the very muse that inflamed my thoughts and powered my flighty imagination.

How do you typically approach the writing process?

CCO: I approach it in a zigzag manner; no order, no symmetry, no plan. It is usually spontaneously achieved either when hit by the writing bug, a frenzy of emotions, melancholy, excitement, good news, or bad news. In my world, every nightmare is a wonderful inspiration.

Soro Soke
Soro Soke

Can you tell me about your favorite piece of writing that you have created?

CCO: My favorite piece of writing is a children’s book that I am hoping would be accepted by some publishers here in Swansea, it is titled The Missing Tooth-fairies of Wales, a collective effort with my children.

What kind of research do you usually do for your writing?

CCO: I love Igbo cosmology, ontology, and ethnography, hence my research is usually anthropological. I grew up in a close relationship with elderly family members. Hence, native wit and wisdom, meta language, proverbs, totemic expressions, parables, and idiomatic expressions are hardly a problem to me.

How do you handle writer’s block or creative slumps?

CCO: I read and watch movies and social media skits. I also drown my powerlessness in music and the tranquility of daydreams.

Can you share any tips or advice for aspiring writers?

CCO: You cannot write from a place of emptiness. Read and fill your reservoir of knowledge. A good reader makes a great writer.

How do you balance your writing with other aspects of your life?

CCO: Sacrifice in the bridge that gives my life a semblance of equilibrium. Sometimes I burn the proverbial midnight candle. In summary, self-denial is how I balance, especially when I have to choose. Truth is, I am still trying to find my balance.

Are there any authors or books that have influenced your writing style?

CCO: My writing is majorly inspired by lived experiences of myself and others. But I have also learnt from reading the works of authors across the world.

So, there’s a long list. However, my absolute favorites of all time are Chigozie Obioma’s An Orchestra of Minorities, Ben Okri’s The Famished Road, and Jennifer Makumbi’s Manchester Happened. My favorite authors of all time are Chinua Achebe, Jon Gower, and Chimamanda Adichie.

How important are symbolism and imagery in your writing?

CCO: Achebe called proverbs the palm oil with which words are eaten; Soyinka called proverbs the horses of speech. Symbolism and imagery are like horses and palm oil to me. They are to me, what proverbs are to Achebe and Soyinka. They help to create and heighten the effect.

Can you give me an example of a piece you’ve written where symbolism or imagery played a significant role?

CCO: A short story of mine titled, “To Buy an Expensive Dream” will be published by Honno Publishers in a collection titled Lipsticks and Glosses. This is an extension of the Nigerian Japa outbreak and the mirage surrounding the idea that the grass is greener on the other side.

What were you trying to convey by using these literary devices in the story?

CCO: I tried urging the reader to embark on a journey as the story they hinge it on migration. As such, I wanted the reader to feel the varying levels of emotions and walk in the shoes of the traveler-protagonist.

How do you decide what symbols or images to use in your writing? Do you plan them in advance or do they emerge organically as you write?

CCO: They are 80% organic, the movements, twists, and turns in the plot often set the tone for the fluid infusion of these devices.

How do you ensure that the symbolism or imagery in your writing is effectively communicated to your readers without being too heavy-handed?

CCO: Heavy-handedness is often inevitable. Besides, I don’t fancy authorial intrusion. I love it when the reader connects the dots and arrives at their points of denouement by themselves.

How do you balance the use of symbolism and imagery with other elements of storytelling, such as plot and character development?

CCO: These are elements I make no outright effort to achieve. Owing to the spontaneity and fluid nature of my writing and my inspiration to write, I discover these elements after the frenzy of writing.

Thank you so much for sharing, Chinyere. It was nice chatting with you. Here’s hoping that other writers who have migrated or are considering relocation find inspiration from you and the grit to keep following and honing their craft, no matter where they go. 

About The Interviewer

Amarachukwu Chimeka owns a cute purple and white-themed bookstore in Lekki, Lagos Nigeria. She is an award-winning editor and publisher.

In 2021, she became the first African to be selected for the Richard S. Holden Diversity Fellowship for editors by the American Copyediting Society (ACES). In addition to her advocacy for child literacy, she is also a strong promoter of the use of indigenous languages in children’s literature.

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