By Henry Akubuiro

Michael Afenfia has many feathers to his cap. He is a storyteller and author of several critically acclaimed novels that have been nominated for awards in Nigeria. He is a lawyer with a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA), a public speaker and a mentor to many up-coming writers. He is currently the Executive Director of the Saskatchewan Association of Immigration Settlement and Integration Agencies (SIASIA). The writer shares his  experience as an immigrant writer living in Canada with Henry Akubuiro in an e-chat.

 You have been performing in Canada recently, can you share your most memorable experience?

Yes, you are right about that. I had a number of invitations last year and even this year as well. I was invited for performances, readings, presentations and such about writing and storytelling. They were all impactful sessions for sure, but I think the most memorable was the invitation to perform one of my newer stories, “The Fishermen of Dondo” live at a charity event organised by the Saskatoon Community Foundation. Saskatoon is the city in Canada that I currently reside. The highlight of this particular performance for me was getting to perform alongside a drummer from Nigeria and a flutist and dancer from Canada. The performance was a coming together of nations and cultures in music, dance and storytelling. As you know, there is so much diversity in Canada, and it is always a pleasure for me when I am able to share my culture with the diverse people of Canada, including and especially with the First Nations and Indigenous Peoples of Canada. It was such a great event and performance and, at the end of it, I felt proud, because I was able to share a bit of my Nigerian culture and identity with the audience.

 Are you satisfied how your last book, Rain Can Never Know,  performed? 

I am very excited about the reception my last book is receiving. I am! Rain Can Never Know was released in 2021, and it has done very well. In fact, only last year it made the shortlist of three books for the 2022 Association of Nigeran Authors (ANA) Prize for Prose. It made it with two other very good books, so that kind of recognition and celebration from my peers and a jury of some of the best literary minds in Nigeria is always a morale booster.

 You have a new book on the way, what makes it different from others before it?

Thank you for the question. Leave My Bones in Saskatoon is very special to me. It is special, because it tells the story of what many Nigerians – young and old – dream about today. It tells the story of a family leaving Nigeria to start a new life in Canada. You can call it japa, if you want. Isn’t that what it is called these days? (laughs) I know the experiences for immigrants and refugees who embark on these relocation journeys are different, but with this book, I felt compelled to share my perspective on how that experience can be. As a fiction writer, I know there is certain kind of confidence that comes with writing about something you have the lived experience of and I hope that, as readers and fans read the book, they will see that come through in the pages. Leave My Bones in Saskatoon is a work of fiction, but it is very compelling fiction, and that is what makes it so beautiful, and I can’t wait to share it with the world. It is such a beautiful story with important lessons for people wanting to relocate to where the “grass is greener” and even for those who have successfully made the journey and feel like they have integrated.

As an African writer in Canada, how smooth or hard was the process of integration with the literary community? 

I am happy that I found acceptance in the literary community in Canada within such a short time of being in Canada.  As I said, Canada celebrates diversity and inclusion, and I think being in Canada right now, in this moment, feels like being in the right place at the right time. Since being in Saskatoon, I noticed that there is a genuine appetite for new and underrepresented voices in the literary and creative space, and I find that very impressive. I want to also say that publishing houses, like Griots Lounge, that are committed to publishing, supporting and promoting African Literature in Canada are the real heroes here. The writers and creatives themselves are doing a great job of continuing to push their work and making sure their voices and stories are told and heard even though they may be different. In this case, I will say different is good. So, I would say for me personally, the process of integrating was easy for me because of my personal grit, determination, tenacity and grace, but that might not have been the case with other writers and creatives, because, as you know, when you first arrive here, there are all the challenges of culture shock, finding work, the weather, language barriers, isolation and even the change in family dynamics in some cases to contend with. Faced with all those barriers, it is understandable if the last thing you want to do is write.

What ideas shape what you write as a writer living abroad now? 

I would say my world view has changed for sure. For one thing, I know I have a larger audience now. I have a reasonably large readership in Nigeria and my readership here in Canada is growing as well, so I have to cater to that and put that in perspective in anything I write. In terms of perspective, that two has changed. I have had experiences living in Canada that make me see certain things differently from when I lived in Nigeria. I see accountability and transparency at work every day. I see genuine dignity in labour. I see a government that has set up processes and systems to help its citizens succeed and I want to write about those things in hopes that someone will read and it will spark off a new thinking in them, too. The beauty of being an immigrant writer is that you see things from two different lenses – my Nigerian lens and my Canadian lens, and that is such a beautiful thing.

Are you currently working on any new writing projects?

Yes, I am. My next book will be a collection of short stories, and I have started working on it. I don’t have a completion or publication timeline just yet, so I write when I can. I have a number of stories and monologues online, and I would say to anyone interested in listening to those to check them out on YouTube or Spotify.

Source: The Sun

Written by : Michael Afenfia

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