“Love Holds Things Together”: A Q&A with Jude Dibia

by    /  March 18, 2016  / No comments

How did you find a way to get Walking with Shadows to readers despite the non-existent distribution channels?

There were very few bookstores available when Walking with Shadows was published. The few that existed at the time mainly stocked books by foreign authors. When my publisher approached the available bookshops, many said they did not stock or sell books by Nigerians. Some even said they did not sell books by African authors. Their reasons varied from people not being interested in reading literature by African writers to a perceived poor production of books published locally. The few that requested a sample copy of the novel eventually said the subject matter of Walking with Shadows was taboo and for that reason they could not stock it. It is important to point out that this was over a decade ago, eleven years ago to be precise.

The first copies of the novel were sold directly to readers via book tours and festivals, book readings and other direct marketing strategies. In time, the very subject matter of the novel fueled interest in the book and many more people started approaching bookstores and asking for copies. This was how that channel opened up for the book. The publisher and myself started receiving request from some bookshops for copies. Perhaps it was because the story was not what people expected: it was not porn or did not contain graphic descriptions of same-sex coupling, but rather explored deep emotional and ethical issues. There have been two reprints and a second edition of Walking with Shadows and it continues to sell today.

A Writer’s Identity

To what extent did your identity motivate you to write?

I just wanted to tell stories. My identity or sexuality did not at first play a role in my passion to tell stories. However, as I matured I began to see the power of literature and understood the platform it offered to me. All literature is political when one thinks of it. It doesn’t matter what genre one writes in.

I began writing at a very young age. I kept diaries that later morphed into stories. I joined the press club of my high school and was very active there. At University in the ‘90s, I also was involved in the faculty’s press organization. My first published “book” was actually a novella that was published in 1999. It was a love story set shortly after the Biafran War ended.

When you were a child, how did literature help you understand yourself?

My childhood in the ‘80s was the best. My parents loved books and we even had our own private library at home. I was always encouraged to read. I fell in love with books and stories and their power to take one anywhere. Reading some classics as a young boy helped me connect with deeper emotional feelings. I understood love, pain, loss in a much more complex way. I understood that our humanity was largely dependent on how we embrace how different we are from one another.

How did the literature you accessed at a young age influence you as a writer?

I remember reading the Russian writer, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, and being fascinated by his prison stories; I read the Gulag Archipelago and Cancer Ward. In spite of the hardship he illustrated in his books, there was resilience in his characters that always moved me. I recall thinking how vivid their emotions were and how I wanted to write characters like that, characters that people could empathize with. I also recall reading Jane Austen and also craving to write in a way that will capture the essence of a period. I think in all, the books I read when I was younger made me want to tell stories that were truthful and relevant.

“I understood that our humanity was largely dependent on how we embrace how different we are from one another.”

What African literature do you recommend now?

Obviously, I recommend Chimamanda Adichie’s work. Her writing is praised for good reason and I would encourage anyone to read her entire body of work. I will also like to mention Zukiswa Wanner (Men of the South), Kagiso Lesego Molope (This Book Betrays My Brother), Chika Unigwe (On Black Sisters’ Street), Ama Ata Aidoo (Our Sister Killjoy).

Elnathan John (Born on a Tuesday) and Abubakar Adam Ibrahim (Season of Crimson Blossoms) are two male Nigerian writers with stunning debut novels.

What is it like to be a writer in Nigeria?

Nigeria has always had a rich literary culture, with writers as diverse in their writing style from Amos Tutuola to Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka to Flora Nwapa and Buchi Emecheta. And this is without citing the more contemporary writers like Chimamanda Adiche, Ben Okri, Teju Cole and many others.

Like anywhere else, a Nigerian writer is not just a writer but many other things as well. While I wrote my books and stories, I also had another separate life in the corporate world. I have some writer friends who share in this same experience and some who only write for a living. However, I can only speak for myself, but being a writer, as wonderful as it may seem to some people, and it does have its moments when it is wonderful, comes also with unexpected responsibilities.

There is a growing number of readers who are interested in creative fiction and fiction in general but, it can be argued that this number does not compare to those that read self-help books. There are many who still believe reading fiction is a waste of time, especially in an economically challenged environment like Nigeria.

In terms of publishing, there are a couple of publishing houses that have remained strong in spite of the tough publishing climate. One of the toughest challenges for publishers in Nigeria is the non-existent distribution channel for books. The library system is almost dead as well as bookshop chains.

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