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

by    /  March 18, 2016  / No comments

How are you maintaining your readership in exile? What is your relationship with your readers like?

Before moving to Sweden, I sustained my readership with the release of my books or publication of short stories or opinion pieces. My last book was published in 2011 and I have only published a handful of shorter pieces since then. In spite of all this, I maintain a good relationship with my readers. I know they are waiting for something new from me and I am working on delivering that. In the meantime, I am growing a new readership base in Sweden and hope to extend this to other European countries.

Now that you are in exile, what are the topics that you get tired of answering, offend you, or you would prefer not to discuss?

I am not offended by people’s curiosity to know more about me and my writing or why I chose to leave Nigeria. Understandably, it can be overwhelming when one has to keep repeating the same answers in different ways, but I believe that it is better to be asked the same questions than not to be thought of at all. I generally, as a rule, do not like discussing my personal life or sexuality, as those are private matters and should be respected as such.

What has it been like to witness the European refugee crisis from a state of exile?

Watching the news and seeing firsthand the trauma refugees coming in from war torn countries face are totally different things. The news has a way of depersonalizing people and reducing them to numbers and statistics. But these are people and many of them carry with them stories that will shock many of us.

I can relate because in many ways I am like them: in exile due to conditions I have no control over. There are many refugees who are still suffering persecution, even though they have left their countries to avoid persecution. The worst part is that many of them are suffering this persecution from fellow migrants like themselves. For my next project, I have had the opportunity to interview a couple of LGBTQI+ migrants from these places who are still afraid of openly identifying as LGBTQI+ for fear of being cast out by their community.

“Love holds things together and that is important regardless of time or year.”

The Stories That Find Him

Although you are most well-known for Walking with Shadows, you have written two other novels, Unbridled (2007) and Blackbird (2011). How did writing those books permit you to experiment with different themes and storytelling structures?

Unbridled was told from the point of view of a woman. I wrote it in her voice, and unlike Walking with Shadows, the structure was not linear. The story follows the protagonist as she leaves the United Kingdom and returns to Nigeria after many years away. The story is told in disjointed fragments, each chapter containing its own unique story, introducing other characters that help form a complete story when all is pieced together. The central plot revolves around a woman called Erika, or Ngozi, who was molested as a child by a member of her family. As a result, she fell into an abusive cycle of relationships with different men, including a white British man she ended up marrying in the UK. Apart from incest, the emancipation of women and the traditional submissive role patriarchal societies enforce are themes that I tackled in the book. As it turned out, the US editor who worked on this book actually believed it was a woman that wrote the story and was surprised to know that I was a man.

Blackbird was my book of opposites or sharply drawn dichotomies. I was interested in portraying a crumbling society and examining how the actions and policies of those in government inadvertently affect opposing sides of the society. Using two couples I illustrated themes of beauty and ugliness, rich and poor, black and white, power and weakness. At the heart of the story is a mother, Maya, who is desperate to save her family and sick son by looking for work since her husband has lost his work at a factory, and on the opposite side is Edward, the philandering British hotelier, and his deeply disturbed Nigerian wife who wants nothing to do with her family and is deeply suspicious of the beautiful singer her husband employs to sing at the hotel.

How does the editorial process influence the final piece?

My relationship with my editor is very good. There are few times that I disagree or feel strongly about an editorial choice, and I am open to seeing my work from a different set of eyes. There are also times I have to defend why I insist on certain literary choices I make. On a whole, there is no uncomfortable drama between editor and myself.

It is always great to have a good editor who is not just there to correct grammar and typographical errors, but one who can help advice on structure and narrative flow of a writer’s work. A small, independent press first published Walking with Shadows and so I did not have the traditional substantive editor but rather a copyeditor. With my other novels, I enjoyed the benefits of various editors who I respect. Stronger editorial processes influenced the final outcome of my later two novels.

Your short story, “Pill,” to be published in Sampsonia Way, is a love story. What is the importance of love stories in 2016?

Love holds things together and that is important regardless of time or year. I was looking at how we see love or define it in the era of HIV and AIDS. Also, I was interested in how people meet and fall in love now that social media and the Internet is an important part of our lives.

Five years from now, do you want to be writing about the same issues or do you see yourself writing about something else?

Thankfully, I don’t believe I have written about the same issues in my books or short stories. My three published novels all have different themes and different stories. It is more a commentary on the society that my first novel that tackles homosexuality is the one that is mostly discussed. And it is important that the issues I raised in that book are discussed until there is a change in the society, but I have written on other issues and will continue to do so as long as our world evolves.

The stories will find me and I will write them. There is so much happening around the world that it is hard to say what story will find its way to me and not leave me until I write it.

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