Riverhead Books | July 2020

From the Riverhead Tumblr:

"Today we are thrilled to welcome Akwaeke Emezi to Riverhead for their next two books! Many of you are Akwaeke fans already – their debut Freshwater has dazzled readers, booksellers, and critics around the country, who have called it “a witchy, electrifying story of danger and compulsion” (Wall Street Journal), “remarkable and daring” (New York Times), and “the talk of the literary town” (Entertainment Weekly). Akwaeke’s next novel, The Death of Vivek Oji, set in a multicultural Nigerian community, is a fresh, engaging novel about the innocence of youth and how it clashes with culture and expectation. We asked Akwaeke to answer some questions so all of you can get to know them better – and be sure to read Freshwater if you haven’t already!

Congratulations on the incredible reception for Freshwater – including currently being longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize! What has it been like to have so many readers fall in love with your work?

 It’s been wonderful and slightly hard to believe. I started out with very restrained expectations because I had no idea how people would respond to the reality that Freshwater is based in, and the reception so far has me in equal part surprised and delighted. Being in group discussion with readers at events has been my favorite – I always wish the Q&A sections had more time allotted, it never feels like enough. But yeah, overall, I’m just really glad that people take the time to read my work, and that it does something in the world.  

Your new novel explores the tug of war between traditions and contemporary ways of being. Do you have any traditions that you hold sacred?

 Actually, I’m not entirely sure I believe in traditions, because even when we say there’s a fixed way of doing things, there’s always a slew of people who … aren’t doing that, who don’t believe in it, so what even is fixed? And when people say “This is how we’ve always done it,” especially around “customs” that harm others, there’s a sliding over the fact that there’s an enforcement happening, often violently, to make sure people conform, or else. On a temporal note, the ways of being explored in my new novel aren’t really contemporary at all. People have always existed in multiple realities, with multiple forms of expression, and history is just wildly revisionist in erasing certain stories. It’s one of the effects of colonialism.

You also take on the ever-evolving idea of home in this global age. What evokes the sense of “home” for you?

 I’m currently building one inside the ribcage of a magician. Other things that evoke: quiet apartments I paint and then disappear into, fried plantains, roasted yam with palm oil, nasi lemak. Guavas from street vendors in Chinatown. My grandmother’s voice over Skype. A dance floor with soca playing.

What piece of art is on your mind these days?

 I recently spent about ten hours playing Anderson .Paak’s album Malibu on loop, so there’s that.

Because we always want to know: Cats or dogs?

 Cats, always. They’re independent enough that you can leave them alone for a day or two and they won’t self-combust, but also affectionate in a way that makes you think you earned it. Altogether picky and delightful devils."

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