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In this thought-provoking interview with Oludare Sorunke, Publisher, BLACKWASH, Nigerian-Jamaican born poet, speaker and lawyer, Antoinette Nneka Orji shares her thoughts on her upcoming book “Naked Rose”, Black authors, poetry, love, relationship, money and sex.

Born to a Nigerian father and Jamaican mother, Nneka grew up with words. She reads, eats, sleeps and lives with words. The word is her pain killer.  Nneka has risen early, therefore, the road ahead of her is short.

Looking at the Man Booker, Pulitzer and other notable literature prizes, do you think black writers have come to the table?

I would say that we are not getting the recognition that we truly deserve, especially with the soul and depth of our works. However, we are certainly taking a seat at the table.

Mention the best books you’ve read.

Well, this is certainly a hard one. One of the books that really opened my eyes at a very young age was “The Slave Trade” by Hugh Thomas. I read the book when I was 6 years old and was literally horrified by the images of little black children with chains on their necks. They looked just like me and men like my father being whipped and branded.

Honestly, at that young age, I could not fathom what was going on and would only read the book when either of my parents was present because of how scared I was. It was a horror story for me. Though no one forced me, I was intrigued reading the book. It was the beginning of knowing my identity and self-worth. When my mother explained that the book cover design image was the bodies of Africans enslaved at bottoms of ships, at only 6 I was stricken with guilt and fear for touching the cover, I felt as though I was mishandling the people that lay at the bottom of those ships. Thinking about it, I really laughed at how afraid I was It was so personal and painful to me because those people are me… I am them. I think that was the beginning of my journey into writing and I began to be passionate about Africa.

I read “The Fourth Estate” by Jeffery Archer when I was 10.  The twist in that book blew my young mind, the lesson being that people really change; things are never really what they look like. Of course, “Jagua Nana” by Cyprian Ekwensi, inspired my writing immensely.  I read “Mama, Black Widow ‘‘by IceBerg Slim at age 13 or 14 and was speechless. The book resonated with me in a profound way. The birth of some of my classic poems and short stories came after reading his books.

“Roots” by Alex Haley, “Things Fall Apart” by Chinua Achebe, “Machiavelli, The Prince” by Niccolò Machiavelli, “To Kill a Mockingbird” Harper Lee and “Now I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou are other books that gave me fond memories of my childhood.

Antoinette Nneka Orji
Antoinette Nneka Orji

Who are your favourite black authors?

Honestly, one of my favorite Black writers of all time is Iceberg Slim. His real name is Robert Beck. He wrote from the Harlem (New York) Renaissance period, between the 1920s to 1930s. The period was a very exciting time in the discovery of creative expression of Black people. It was the rise of Verbal and Artistic fight against repression and oppression in the African American communities. So, you can only imagine its influence on Jazz music and Art. You know, the likes of Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong. A lot of pain was turned into creative expression.

As I read the works of Iceberg Slim, I began to imagine the horn of the trumpet and the strong command of the saxophone in a dark basement somewhere in Harlem. The heat from bodies gyrating in slow motion and rainbows of all shades of Black… Mahogany, Ebony, Blue black, Caramels etc. Then the poetic form of conversation that took me aback. And there I began to write…

Hip your ear to my lips

Don’t be misled by the direction of my fingertips

While you sip on your liquor

Cause my type of ni*** I’d let inna

Listen deeply… Concentrate!

Whilst my lips whisper a love note

Don’t let the pillars of my thighs entice the sight in your eyes

Or the roundness of my rare prolong your stare.

As the scent of our love lingers in the air

My darkened nipples throb as they send ripples of passion down the Nile of blood running in your veins

I move my hips back and forth against your rock… Captivating!

Make me feel the passion and pain.

The very thing that will stain my heart

Make me scream your name.

As my hair sways from side to side in tune with the mellow move…

The steady grove…

The subtle blues…

Oh! chocolate skin, man king

made in God’s image,

I want you to choose…

Put a ring on this queen

Make me yours forever.

My other favorite writer is Cyprian Ekwensi, who wrote ‘Jagua Nana’. This had the same effect as the Iceberg Slim books except it opened my eyes to the vibrant, dark side of the sprawling city of Lagos. After independence, many African writers found expression and art began to blossom.  The correlation between those two writers is Expression giving birth to life through Repression.

Education brings enlightenment and progress to a people. Do you think more people of colour are going to school?

Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.” May I add that it is essential that Black people write their own educational, historical books? If not, one would just be fed anything. Most of what we read glorifies the colonialists, the enslavers, and portrays black people as if they had been subjugated, as those that were lost and needed “finding”, “taming”, or “leadership”. So, those who open books and read become ‘discovered’ and inferiority complex sets in.

Regarding the increase in the number of people of colour going to school, I agree but it’s not enough. Take for example a country like Nigeria with enough resources to educate the whole nation free of charge, the literacy rate in Nigeria is at 62% and honestly that is not good enough. In my opinion, a strong economy needs more than 80percent of its population well educated for any type of substantial development.

However, I will not fail to acknowledge that more people of colour are being educated than ever before.

Antoinette Nneka Orji
Antoinette Nneka Orji

What’s the inspiration behind your upcoming book, ‘Naked Rose’?

‘Naked Rose’ is the baring of my soul. I am a Naked Rose in this book, I expose parts of myself that I think I was taught to be ashamed of. From just being a young Black woman in all its entirety, excitement, power. adventure, curiosity, to doubts and fears… ignorance. I realize that as a woman who wanted more out of life, I am going to make mistakes, I am going to cut and bleed but I will heal. Blurred visions would portray images of security and love, but I will later learn that it disguises manipulation and abuse. This was all part of life and growth. A journey of self-love.

I have been writing for myself for many years, but once I started posting and sharing my works, I realized that people needed to hear them, people needed a voice, people wanted to feel that they were not going through certain things alone. I grew up feeling like “damn… I am alone”, but it’s not true there is nothing new under the sun but knowing that he or she got through something like your own experience and made it is what brings healing… it is always impossible until it’s done, right?

I was hesitant to write about such things as sex and domestic violence. I even reference African spirituality (which I embrace and am proud of) but growing up in a Christian household with a father who was purely academic focused, there was no room for any of this. I think a lot of us can relate… (I just laugh to myself at my father reading one of my poems and saying “where did I go wrong with this child”).

I found freedom in writing, being able to express another’s pain through my own words because of how empathetic I am. ‘Naked Rose’ is a combination of all the things we were taught never to say out loud. My aim also was to make Nigerian women especially feel important although it is really for everyone. I do this by including a lot of Nigerian culture in my poems. I think it’s easy and common to pick up a book and see “Dear Jane…” but what about “Ada Listen” and this is exactly what ‘Naked Rose’ does. It is for us, by us, to address our issues and heal us.

Do you think more black writers are becoming poets?

I feel that we have always been verbally expressive as a people, I think social media has put us more out there.

Tell us about your upcoming book; ‘Naked Rose’.

Naked Rose uses poems and proverbs to advise. My father is an Igbo man and my mother from Jamaica, and I grew up on proverbs with a rich diverse culture. I fuse poetry and proverbs together to pass a message.

An example of one of my favorite poems is Chika Listen:

“Chika Listen….

 Do not expect hands that only tap palm wine

To know what to do with Gold.

You are not the reflection of those that did not know how to hold you.”

What is the importance of poetry to a people?

Poetry first of all is the way our ancestors dance barefooted through words. Poetry in Black culture are words of wisdom with rhythm. Rhythm we have always had as Black people. Poetry in African culture is the glue holding a people together.

What are the themes of your poems?

I talk about everything, from disappearing fathers to neglectful mothers, broken hearts and broken calabashes, to side chicks and knowing your worth. I cover all the sides of the coins of life, real things that people NEED to hear. Nothing’s sugar coated.

How do you set boundaries and invest in a relationship? At what point do you say enough is enough?

The simple truth is, when you start feeling like pieces of you are breaking apart and you are constantly emotionally tired, it is time to exit.

What are your thoughts about money and sex?

Money is good lol. Sex is sacred, a lot of the issues we have today are because we have had emotional ties with people we have no business getting involved with. However, when its right it is a very beautiful thing.

When you have your person, sex is a wonderfully spiritual unification of two souls. We must also understand that experiences change, the important things is learning to let go when its time.

 

Follow Antoinette Nneka Orji on Instagram @ A.N.Orji

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Black wash

Black wash

Blackwash is home to news, events, entertainment, inspiration and the rich cultural assemblage of the man and woman of colour. Blackwash echoes the beauty, struggles and successes of black people in Nigeria and diaspora. Every day, Blackwash publishes contents that impact lives spiritually, intellectually and professionally. Blackwash is powered by PROJECT MANAGEMENT HUB BN 2522711.

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