Excerpts from the interview:
“Since I come from a medical, science-oriented family, I thought I would be a veterinarian or an entomologist -- something in the sciences -- until my freshman year at college. I'd always scored well in the sciences and math, not so well in English. (But I was always a voracious reader, since I was small.) Then, after some other life changing stuff happened to me, during my sophomore year, my current boyfriend encouraged me to take a creative writing course, and because I was enamored with this guy at the time, I said OK! It was in that class that I wrote my first short story, and from that point on I fell in love with writing.”
“A lot of things happened when I went to Clarion. That was the first time I identified myself as a person who writes fantasy. It was weird: I was at a crossroads. That summer I had an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times for an internship, and Nalo Hopkinson told me about Clarion when I met her for the first time at a book signing. So I applied for Clarion and this internship. The internship never panned out, but I got into Clarion. When I arrived I met all these other people writing fantasy and science fiction, this really crazy stuff, and I thought, 'Oh, these are my people! These are who I belong with, and this is what I am.' ”
“I've been trying to figure out why science fiction hasn't made further inroads in Africa. I guess people write what they know. From my experience with the Nigerians, most don't read stuff specially categorized as ‘fantastical.’ Ben Okri, Amos Tutuola, even Chinua Achebe-- their work has fantastical elements, definitely, but the categories of fantasy or science fiction almost aren’t in Nigerian vocabulary. I feel like part of why I'm able to write it is because I was born and raised in the United States. Thus I’ve been exposed to this specific style of writing along with African literature with fantastical elements. (There is some crossover, some gray areas, but it's not the same thing.) Maybe this category doesn’t exist in Nigeria because it’s not needed. The fantastical is naturally a part of the Nigerian world already.”
“I've been called a feminist writer, and that's completely correct. I'm a feminist, a womanist, pro-equality, all of that. What's interesting is, there's always a little conflict between my womanist side and my feminist side. For example, there was a scene in one of my novels about female circumcision, and I was trying to get to the root of it. It's a horrible practice, but it's a complex thing. You can't go into somebody's culture and say, 'Something is wrong with what you are doing -- you should stop it,' without respecting them as a people and a culture first.
“In my novel-writing workshop (I'll never forget this), I was accused of being pro-female circumcision because of the way I portrayed this incident. I think even if you look at it in a non-judgmental way, you can see that it's rotten. So there's a cultural conflict, when it comes to feminism and how I identify myself. I'm the extreme side of feminist, and when I go to Nigeria I'm yelling about everything. And then, when I come here, I'm defending Nigerians. It's that whole being in the middle of things.”
“I think I've written 11 or 12 novels, and only four of them have been young adult, so I feel more like an adult novel writer, but people know me as a young-adult writer. In the general population, it seems that if people haven't read much young-adult stuff, people don't respect it. They assume it's simplistic, and it's not. But I see myself doing a lot of different forms of writing. I hope to continue to write my column for the Star, which I really enjoy. I'm working on a screenplay, and that's been interesting. (Of course there are fantastical elements in that too.)”