Irenosen Okojie

The first scribblings I wrote felt like breaking bread for a new religion. I wrote drunk on Mildred D. Taylor, Rosa Guy, Roald Dahl, S.E Hinton. I wrote poems about the time I went missing in a Lagos amusement park as a kid, then like a small miracle turned up unscathed, puzzled by all the fuss and refusing to say where I’d been. I wrote of hurtling through my father’s office glass doors at full speed, then bleeding in his arms, feeling like my heartbeat had tripled because the adrenaline rush of being chased doesn’t immediately end once the chaser has stopped running. I scrawled diary entries on almost drowning at my boarding school’s swimming pool, eating roast beef with mint sauce then catching the train from Norwich back to London. To my uncle’s flat in Homerton, Hackney where I’d wolf down pounded yam and okra with a home full of Nigerian nomads who bought clothes from Marks & Spencer’s for relatives like it was Harrods, who spoke loudly when they told you a secret and laughed like they meant it. Who I knew would be gone by the next time I came to visit, replaced by a new set of travellers speaking pidgin English from mouths attuned to frequencies of a sun drenched landscape. I wrote about my trick of turning my eyelids inside out to pose for pictures at my uncle’s wedding, which amused my father and aggravated my mother. I wrote that I discovered there are many words for snow but not enough words to describe feeling ‘other’. I wrote of hanging out with my big brother who played me Gil Scott-Heron, Slick Rick, Bahamadia. Who was cool enough to not only look out for his baby sister but assured enough to find ways of looking up to her. As well as capturing the emotional significance, these fragments of my life pieced together were a way of catching those elements that are hard to define, ambiguous, a way of running my fingers over their lines. It seemed necessary to document them, to reflect, because writing is a way of remembering, recreating, making the moments of moments indelible.

Now I write fiction to turn the world upside down, to find the core of characters who fall through the cracks, changed by the broken fabrics of their lives, that try to rescue themselves in surprising ways. In the process, I learn a little about the different lives I maybe lived or could live. I write out of curiosity. I write to get answers to questions that somehow find their way to blank pages.