An interview with Ukamaka Olisakwe. Read our review of her book, Ogadinma here.
LE: Hello Ukamaka, please tell us a bit about yourself.
Ukamaka: I was born in Kano, moved to Aba to start my family, and am now living in the United States, where I am pursuing a Ph.D. in English with a specialization in Creative Writing. I read across genres, but I am currently researching narratives investigating pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum depression/complications—what I call Postpartum Interiorities. I briefly touched on these subjects in my novel, Ogadinma.
LE: Yes, we mentioned post partum depression as one of the notable things about your book in our review. Thinking about your book, Ogadinma, what is the significance of the title?
Ukamaka: The title can loosely be translated to “everything will be all right.” I am an optimist; my Ogadinma takes a keen look at deeply uncomfortable conversations we shroud in silence in my community. My protagonist perseveres in challenging situations and at a unique period in our history when the country endures chains of political violence that rocked our economy and shaped our national trajectory. In a way, this violence at the national level is mirrored on the family level. But everything turns out all right for my protagonist. Hopefully, it will turn out all right for us, too.
LE: What is the key theme and/or message in Ogadinma?
Ukamaka: The book isn’t about one thing; it covers various themes—family, community, marriage, postpartum depression, domestic violence, etc. Ogadinma learns to put herself and her feelings first, and that, perhaps, is the central message that frames the various subplots and themes in the novel.
LE: What were the main challenges you faced when writing Ogadinma?
Ukamaka: I wanted her to stand up for herself very early in the novel, to exhibit the heroics we expect of women. But this novel is a letter to my community; Ogadinma reflects the realities of women I know, so I wanted the novel to mirror those realities as truthfully as possible, no matter how uncomfortable these stories are. And that was quite frustrating. She’s the most challenging character I have written to date.
LE: What books or authors have most influenced your own writing?
Ukamaka: Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood is one of the key novels that shaped my writing. The themes the legend pursued, like motherhood and childbirth, are central to my research today. Other books I read while working on my Ogadinma include Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sisters Street, Lola Shoneyin’s The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, Flora Nwapa’s Efuru, and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus.
LE: We noticed the reference to Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood in Ogadinma. What do you hope your readers take away from Ogadinma?
Ukamaka: I only hope that my Ogadinma will contribute to the conversation about the state of things in Nigeria. Not much has changed between the early 80s and today, not the leaders, not the economic instability, and women are still fighting against systemic inequalities.
LE: This is so true. Though the book was set in the 80’s very little has changed.
Ogadinma is Ukamaka’s debut novel.