INTERVIEW: Emmanuel Iduma, author of ‘A Stranger’s Pose’

Emmanuel Iduma is a Nigerian fiction and non-ficiton writer. His work has been published in journals, magazines, artists’ books, and exhibition catalogues. He is the author of The Sound of Things to Come (first published as Farad in Nigeria), and the editor of Saraba Magazine, which he co-founded with Ayobami Adebayo and Dami Ajayi.

The lovely people at Cassava Republic sent me an advance copy of Iduma’s ‘A Stranger’s Pose’, which was published in October 2018, and I completely fell in love with its direct yet elusive style, its stories and histories, its characters, and its unique message. After reading the book, I knew I had to share it with the Bookstagram community; that is why I hosted a giveaway on Instagram giving one lucky person the chance to win a copy of Iduma’s ‘A Stranger’s Pose’ (which was kindly donated by Cassava Republic). The giveaway was a huge success, which is why I thought it’d be a good idea to give the readers more insights into the book and some background information about the author and his creative process. As a result, I got together with Iduma and had the chance to ask him questions about himself as a writer, his book, his literary interests, and more.

A:  Apart from being an author, you are also an art critic, how does that influence your writing?

E: All my work is an attempt to write with heart, and to write into heart, so to speak. I’ve written a novel, and a book of travel stories. The idea of art criticism is expansive, in my mind, and includes narrative essays that make no distinction between an analysis of art and an elucidation of experience.

A:  What inspired you to become an author?

E: My father wrote eleven books to exhort Christians. He was relentless, and I’ll always think of his consistency as a guide.

A:  How often do you write?

Hard to say: on certain successful streaks, daily. But I keep a notebook with flair and regimen. The best writing happens there.

A: What was the inspiration behind ‘A Stranger’s Pose’?

E: I wanted to see if I could close the gap between memory and imagination—memories of having travelled alone or with a group, and what I imagined after I was back, writing about being away.

A: What would you say is the most challenging thing about being an African writer?

E: Hopefully, in a few decades, it might be possible to speak about each book as part of a constellation of books, rather than new, unconventional, or unheard-of. This is happening, somewhat, in fiction. How about in all the multi-hyphenate genres, hard to pin-down?

A: You are one of the few African authors who write about travelling through Africa. What do you think is the main reason for this lack of African travel writers?

E: It is not, as some might think, that Africans are not traveling for luxury, or returning to their home cities with tales of being away. Perhaps it is a matter of form, of whether writers from the continent are interested in pushing the frontiers of the genre. It’s the proposition towards form that interests me most.

A: What would you like for readers of ‘A Stranger’s Pose’ to take away from the book?

E: Below each encounter something trembles under the surface, inarticulate. I wrote the book thinking of anonymity as a method, in order to speak to an audience besides those whose stories I was retelling, and whose lives I was conjuring. I hope the reader might be able to meet me at the intersection of my life and those I write about.

A: Which African city has had the greatest impact on you as a person, and on you as a writer?

E: The weeks I spent between Dakar and Sinthian, a little town in Senegal, changed the course of A Stranger’s Pose, and brought my concerns into clearer focus.

A: Where, would you say, does ‘A Stranger’s Pose’ fit in, in terms of the current (often negative) narratives surrounding travelling and migration?

E: It’s a book about movement and itinerancy, considered as widely as both concepts can allow. The stories of people on the move recorded in the book are instances of a greater phenomenon—one of movement across borders, real and imposed, physical and subterranean.

A:  If at all, how do you record your experiences while travelling?

E: I take notes. But that might sound too grandiose if I fail to explain that these weren’t notes in which I accounted for each meeting or encounter while they took place—mainly an attempt to keep watch over my wayfaring mind. The real experience began after the trips ended, when I hoped to remember with precision.

A: In your opinion, is travelling a privilege or a duty?

E: A privilege, especially in today’s world of expensive flights and strict visa policies. But it is a privilege that can be informed by obligation, a duty to tell, to set the story of another at the precise point it becomes illuminating.

A: What would you like the Western world to really know about Africa?

E: Complexity. To think of a large continent in simple, broad strokes, is simply an attempt to recolonize us. We’re not having any of that.

A: Would you say that writing as a black and African author is an act of rebellion (a pathway to liberation)?

E: I don’t think in those terms, necessarily. It is as Sufis might say, “let’s fight the Jihad of the soul.” Much of my writing is an inward journey.

A: Which African city, that you have not yet travelled to, do you still want to visit?

E: Dakar.

A: Where do you do most of your writing? In a designated space or just anywhere?

E: On my desk, except when I have a crushing deadline, then anywhere.

A: When in your creative zone, what works best for you? Typing on your phone/tablet/computer or writing on paper with a pen?

E: If I have time, I start on paper, and once I get going, I transfer to Word.

A:  What would you say is your main source of inspiration as a writer?

E: The lives of others.

A: What is your favourite book that has been published this year?

E: Three books, in fact. Fisherman’s Blues by Anna Badkhen. Immigrant, Montana by Amitava Kumar. All We Saw by Anne Michaels.

A: Printed Books or Audiobooks?

E: Printed books.

20.  Lagos or New York?

I don’t consider myself native enough to either to choose one over the other. I’m indebted to both cities in different ways. A life on the move, I guess.