Booker Prize finalist Chigozie Obioma in residency with Aspen Words
If You Go …
Who: Chigozie Obioma, presented by Aspen Words
Where: Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar
When: Tuesday, Aug. 15, 5:30 p.m.
How much: Free
More info: www.aspenwords.org; Free copies of Obioma’s novel ‘The Fishermen’ are available at the Aspen Words office in the Red Brick Center.
The 2015 book, a story of four Nigerian brothers and a prophecy that one of them will be killed, earned its young author a global platform and comparisons to fellow Nigerian author Chinua Achebe.
But Obioma, who is working in Woody Creek this month as an Aspen Words writer-in-residence, believes he can do better than “The Fishermen.”
“I don’t think it encompasses my vision, as far as what I’ve always wanted to produce,” Obioma said on a recent afternoon in Aspen. “I think I will see more of that in the second book.”
The second book is what’s brought the author, 31, to Aspen. He is revising his much-anticipated sophomore novel here. Obioma said he is planning to turn in this latest draft to his publisher at the end of the Aspen residency.
The new book, “An Orchestra of Minorities,” is due out next year from Little, Brown. Obioma describes it as an epic love story, set in Nigeria and Cyprus, about a young Igbo poultry farmer who sacrifices everything to be with the woman he loves. Told from the perspective of a god looking down on the action, Obioma said “An Orchestra of Minorities” also speaks more directly to the destruction of the Igbo tribe than his first book.
On Tuesday, Obioma will give a reading at Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar in Aspen. He is unsure whether he’s ready to share from the new book.
“I keep hoping that at some point I’ll read from the new novel, but I still have not decided if I should read it now,” he said. “I think I will read from ‘The Fishermen.’”
Obioma aims to write works that function on a personal and philosophical level while also breaking new ground in form.
“I’ve come to see fiction as a multidimensional thing,” he said. “I think that every fiction, even a short story, should have three dimensions of interpretation.”
The unexpected global success of “The Fishermen,” he said, underscored this belief but also highlighted how different cultures interpret fiction in vastly different ways. The book was translated into 26 languages. Obioma noted that in France and Britain readers focused on the structure, language and aesthetics of the novel. In Italy, they read it as an immigration story. And in the U.S., he found, readers sought commentary on race relations.
“Here, the first thing everyone is interested in is race,” he said. “Because you are a black man, how are you talking about the lens of race? There is a tendency to produce something that will cater to a particular sentiment. Here, I think that is a dangerous thing for a writer.”
For his sophomore effort, Obioma is wary of writing to the taste of a particular readership or catering to American tastes.
“There is a tendency to talk about those things,” he said, “but if it doesn’t come organically from the vision that I have, then I’m not going to do that.”
In the first two weeks of his monthlong stay at the Catto Shaw family’s Mojo Garden Farm in Woody Creek, Obioma has found a pattern of waking up around dawn, working until noon, taking a break and then writing again until 4 p.m. In the evenings, he’s been reading the short stories of William Trevor (his wife noted that a new short story, which Obioma penned for Audible, echoed the Irishman’s style and inspired Obioma to pick him up for the first time).
It’s been a productive residency thus far.
“There is an almost spiritual silence that you get when you’re down there,” he said of the writing retreat. “It’s insanely remote.”
Obioma is a professor of creative writing at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln, with teaching and administrative duties to attend to most of the year, so having a month to devote solely to writing is a rare luxury. The last time he had this long of a stretch of time to simply write, he said, was at the tail end of his master’s program at the University of Michigan.
“I’m a guy who wants to write the entire day,” he said. “That was like bliss for me.”
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