An Exclusive Interview with Nnamdi Oguike


Nnamdi Oguike, author of “Do Not Say It’s Not Your Country” (Griots Lounge, 2019) was born in the Nigerian city of Owerri and grew up in a community where storytelling, music, and poetry formed an integral part of culture. He began writing seriously in 1999. His work has appeared in The Dalhousie Review, African Writer, Africa Book Club, Brittle Paper, Praxis Magazine, etc. I currently manage a music blog called Pianowella, where I write about music. 

–Our interaction started on Facebook when I needed to interview him over email, in August 10th, 2019. Nnamdi’s book had made peole’s response dignify on social media(s), twitter, facebook and Instagram. And am pleased to welcome him into our interview section.–

LIBRETTO: Tell us about yourself. 

NNAMDI OGUIKE: My name is Nnamdi Oguike and I am a writer. I didn’t choose to be a writer. Writing came as a surprise to me. I am Nigerian, African and human. I have all the emotions, frustrations and expectations that overwhelm humanity. 

LIBRETTO: How long have you started writing?

NNAMDI OGUIKE: I have been writing for about 20 years now. It’s a long time, yes, and I think patience is a virtue for every writer. 

LIBRETTO: What is the process of writing your first book like for you? Was it hard or easy when you were writing a book? Did you give it a second thought or you just decided to see your first book published? How long did it take you to write the book? What inspired the title “Do Not Say It’s Not Your Country” and why this title?

NNAMDI OGUIKE: A number of questions here. Let me start with the last. What inspired the title “Do Not Say It’s Not Your Country”. I had tried many titles before hitting on this one. The book has stories set in different countries – South Africa, Nigeria, Mali, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Uganda, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Brazil, the US – and so the title is an invitation to readers to visit these countries through the pages of the book and to make friends with the characters in these countries. It’s a call for humanity to identify with one another. It is a call for more empathy in the world. 

Now, the process of writing the book. I read articles and book, recollected events in the world that I found either moving or remarkable, I researched on peculiar settlements and gathered lots of captivating photographs. Photographs were phenomenal and crucial to my writing. Through photographs, I encountered faces and landscapes that I intended to write about. Photographs talk about many things. I was always interrogating the photographs imaginatively. I was always asking myself, “What could the persons in these photographs be up to?” Sometimes, I got good answers; sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I had too many answers. But I was cautious. And that was important. I never let the material I amassed bully my writing. I let them inform my writing, but never to derail it. So I often ended up not leaving out more material than I put in the book. 

Do Not Say It’s Not Your Country took me six years to write. But fortunately, I was writing other things. 

LIBRETTO: Can you give us your favourite excerpt from the book?

NNAMDI OGUIKE: I find it hard having favourites. During my recent book reading in Accra, I realized that my audience had favourites. But let me give you this excerpt from a passage I didn’t read in Ghana. It is from a story set in Uganda. Here it is: 

“Taata was right about my aunties and uncles. Aunt Lottery, whom I didn’t really know what she did for a living apart from playing raffles, lived in Katanga. She always won something in Uganda. She once won a car. But she never drove it. Against my hope, she sold it. She liked the car, but she sold it because cars are fires that burn people’s money. I hoped she would win an American visa lottery. She was always taking passport photos, 4 by 4 colour photos with a red background. Uncle Milton photographed her with his old Canon camera. He had wanted to be a pilot. But he became a photographer. Aunt Lottery looked fine in Uncle Milton’s photos. With her gapped teeth and big eyes, she smiled at America. I don’t know why she didn’t win a visa lottery after all the smiling. Maybe it was because she was too fat. Uncle Benson, who sold banana beer in Owino Market, won an American visa lottery two times. He didn’t go because – where was the money for the papers and the flight?

From Maama’s side, only Uncle Hope was still alive. Uncle Peter, Maama’s elder brother, took his own life because he owed too many people and drank too much tonto. He owed Taata, Maama, Uncle Hope and Aunt Lottery. He hanged himself in his shack. He was seen seven days after, big and with houseflies. Taata never stopped using his bad death to warn us against doing what we liked.

After Uncle Peter’s death, near Christmas, Aunt Lottery and Uncle Hope visited our house on the same day. It was by coincidence. They stayed for days. Aunt Lottery brought some gifts, things she won from gambling or from a raffle draw in Kampala city. Taata took the harmonica she brought. My sister Kissa got an old chessboard. Uncle Hope brought nothing but a heavy face. He was in love with a girl in Makerere University called Tina, who didn’t love him. Taata and Maama vacated their room for the guests. I was afraid that Aunt Lottery might suffocate Uncle Hope. She was too fat and he was thin like a pencil. He was younger than Aunt Lottery, but age and size didn’t matter to them. Five months later, they were married.

Aunt Lottery made amazing things happen. Her wedding in Agape Love Church caused a big stir. It was a wedding with plenty of rice, matooke, Eagle beer, and banana beer. How she got money I don’t know. Maybe God always made her win when she gambled. She surprised us with her decision to wed in Kisenyi and not in Kampala city. Then our house smelled of her air fresheners. Her presence chased rats and cockroaches out. Her wedding pleased everyone. James was Uncle Hope’s best man. My sister, Babirye, was Aunt Lottery’s bridesmaid. Big, she looked like Aunt Lottery’s twin. Uncle Milton took all the photos with his old Canon camera. After the wedding, Aunt Lottery and her husband went to their new home in Katanga, leaving with us a bunch of their wedding photographs.”

LIBRETTO: Who are your favourite authors?

NNAMDI OGUIKE: I like Ben Okri and Wole Soyinka. I also like Maupassant, John Steinbeck and VS Naipaul. Of course there are lots and lots of others. But these are the ones I’ve read a good deal of their writing. 

LIBRETTO: What genre of books do you read?

NNAMDI OGUIKE: Mostly literary fiction. But I’ve also enjoyed JK Rowling’s YA books. And I love memoirs a good deal. 

LIBRETTO: Do you have published works or articles? Where can they be found? 

NNAMDI OGUIKE: My writing has appeared in The Dalhousie Review, African Writer, Africa Book Club, Brittle Paper, Praxis Magazine, etc. I currently manage a music blog called Pianowella, where I write about music. 

LIBRETTO: Could you share with us one story you’ve been most fascinated by? Tell us why and share favorite excerpt from it? And please tell us why this story? And what prompt this story?

NNAMDI OGUIKE: I’m fascinated in a deep way by all the stories in my book. But I can share a story, titled “My Beloved Infidel”, about the romantic love that grows between a Muslim Hausa boy named Hassan and a Christian Igbo girl named Ifunanya. These two fall in love in the most unlikely of places with a backdrop of terrorism. Here’s the excerpt: 

“THE NEXT TIME I took Baba’s mobile phone and went to the bathroom, I got Ifunanya on the first dial. I was surprised at my new confidence. I was surprised at my words. I first spoke to her in Hausa, because words are sweeter in Hausa than in English.

‘Hassan, I do not understand that one o,’ Ifunanya said, laughing. ‘You know I am still learning Hausa.’

‘Yes,’ I said, my heart beating with more zeal than fear. ‘Ifunanya, it means – Your voice is a thousand times lovelier than the costliest gold from Kano.’

‘You are not serious, Hassan, haba mana, Hassan,’ she said, laughing.

‘Gaskia ne!’ I said. ‘It is the truth, Ifunanya.’

She laughed out sweetly and I imagined heaven opening in her voice. Then she stopped laughing and said, ‘You know what, Hassan? You are so different.’

‘Ina son ki,’ I said. ‘I love you.’

‘I have never felt like this before, Hassan,’ she replied. ‘Ina son ka.’

I slept that night, my dreams sweeter than the purest milk from a Fulani cow.”

LIBRETTO: In less than thirty seconds, what are your best wears?

NNAMDI OGUIKE: Hahaha. A blue shirt and brown chinos trousers. And with loafers to match.

LIBRETTO: Do you think the Writing industry can grow better in few years time?

NNAMDI OGUIKE: Yes, why not? But we need to groom more readers. Readers beget writers. 

LIBRETTO: Do you have a specific time for writing? 

NNAMDI OGUIKE: Yes, mornings. 

LIBRETTO: If you were to write a story for a Writer/Author who would that be? And why?

NNAMDI OGUIKE: Alice Munro perhaps. She’s among the best story writers in the world. 

LIBRETTO: If peradventure all social media(s) decide to go on vacation till further notice, give us three things you will be doing?

NNAMDI OGUIKE: I’d be writing or travelling or reading a book. 

LIBRETTO: Drop your social media handles so your readers can get in touch with you anytime, and links where they can get copies of your book.

NNAMDI OGUIKE: twitter: @NnamdiOguike. Instagram: @nnamdi_oguike

Click to get copies ofDo Not Say It’s Not Your Country”. Below:




LIBRETTO: In less than sixty seconds please describe your handsomeness/identity to your readers.

NNAMDI OGUIKE: Hahahaha, I’d say cool and creative!

LIBRETTO: Nnamdi Oguike, thank you for your time. Blessings!

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