The Jalada Conversations No 6: Akwaeke Emezi


Interviewed by Kiprop Kimutai



My name is Kiprop Kimutai and as part of our Jalada Conversations that we have with writers, where we seek to understand, the motivations behind their craft, and the process of their craft, and today, I am talking to Akwaeke Emezi, who is an Igbo-Tamil writer. She was born in Umuahia, and raised in Aba, Nigeria. Akwaeke was awarded a Morland’s writing scholarship, and shortlisted for the Wasafiri New Writing Prize. She has participated in premier literary workshops, such as the Caine workshop in Elmina Ghana, and the Farafina workshop, which is facilitated by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. She has also been published by Commonwealth Writers, Sable Literary magazine, Golly magazine, and Specter Magazine. It is nice to talk to you Akwaeke.

Akwaeke Emezi: It is lovely to talk to you Kiprop. Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of this series.

Kiprop: Awesome! That is wonderful. What interests me about your work, is the fact that you are so much interested in the spaces that people occupy, and how they navigate those spaces. How they navigate their humanity in those spaces. You don’t necessarily write about spaces that you are familiar with, but you are able to use your imagination and your experience to write about spaces that other people who are different from you occupy. And I just find it interesting, because as human beings, we occupy bodies, and people identify us before we even choose, we are not given an opportunity to identify first, people look at us, at our bodies, the images that we portray, and they identify us. They create structures that force our lives to navigate in certain ways. Could you possibly just tell us a little bit about your interest, about how people navigate their humanity, and how people occupy the bodies that they have been given, the bodies that they walk inside in, and why is that so meaningful to you.

Akwaeke: Actually I hadn’t thought about it in terms of other people. I was mostly thinking about it in terms of myself, and even when-when I am writing, for example, when you said, that I inhabit characters that are very different from me, I had this moment of brief confusion because it doesn’t feel like that. When I am writing about, when I am writing it doesn’t feel that the characters are different from me, because I try to inhabit them myself, and I am interested in…I am interested in navigating humanity, mostly because I personally experience humanity as a rather foreign thing, so I am fascinated by it, and I am particularly interested in aspects of humanity that people have trouble accepting as human. I am interested in things that people think are inhuman or, you know how people say, that person is a monster. I find that interesting because the person is not a monster. The person is a person. We seem at times, to have this reluctance to confront the amount of horror that human beings have been perpetrating for the whole of their existence. So I am interested in kind of going to those corners.

Kiprop: And you know it is so interesting for you to say that. There are so many different ways of being human, which are not simply restricted to our morals. Because one of the stories that you wrote for the Caine prize for African writing, burial, you wrote about this character Uncle Jachi. And I immediately thought what a monster. Because he is making unwanted, I don’t know if it is exactly unwanted, but his making this sexual advances towards his niece, towards his brother’s wife, towards another niece as well, and he seems…

Akwaeke: I am fairly sure you can call him, molesting his niece. I mean unwanted advances, is a bit soft-pedalling it. Go ahead.

Kiprop: yeah, okay, yeah. But how do you make me see him differently, because I quickly concluded that he is a monster, when I was reading that story. And I found is so sad, just how tortured the niece is, and how she is often so frustrated and at her wit’s end, because she doesn’t exactly know how to control his advances towards her.

Akwaeke: Part of it is because she can’t control it. That is kind of unfair. But what was the question exactly?

Kiprop: Maybe like if you could give me a fresh way of looking at him, where I see him as human, without necessarily dismissing him, as this aggressor.

Akwaeke: I don’t think you need to see him as human if that is not your natural inclination. With the work, I am not trying to convince people, “oh see the humanity of these terrible people, of these people who do unspeakably cruel things.” Because I don’t think I can control the reader in that way. Burial is a story that doesn’t actually try to engage much with the humanity of the villain, I suppose. So he is not really delved into that way. You don’t really see much of him, other than him being who he is in the story. So it makes sense that you would look at him and think, “Oh this is a terrible person-this is a monster”. That is how he is written. I think an example of people who, like the author who does, I think the best job, of showing these grey areas of humanity is Toni Morrison. Because she writes in, you know, mothers who kill their children, she writes pedophiles who are accepted in the community, and she just shows it to you like, okay, this is how life is. And then you are left with that, and then it is up to you to decide, how you want to feel about that.

Kiprop: Thank you for saying that because in your other other work, which I really loved, which you did for Sable Literary magazine, you wrote a story titled Femimo, and you had this character. I assume he was the protagonist, called Femi, who has been invited to an exclusive party by his childhood friend Ahmed. And Femi has recently, sort of fallen out of love, with a sweetheart of his called Aima. And the real turning point for me in the story was when Femi confronted Ahmed, accusing him of allowing young girls to come to his establishment and to participate in sexual acts with politicians. And Ahmed was really pissed at his friend, because he was like, you know what, at the end of the day I am a businessman. I am trying to protect these girls, give them the best environment, because who knows, this is their job, this is what they would have been doing if they were not in my establishment. And I don’t even know where I am going with this. I get that deep sense, that we can quickly be judgmental, and we can quickly paint human affairs as either black or white. And it is not necessarily so, like life is so complex in its nature, and we only understand our lives, and we rarely do understand the lives of other people. Could you just speak to me, a little bit more about Femimo?

Akwaeke: Well, that was an interesting story to write because I had a completely different plan for it when I started. I don’t even remember what that plan was, and the story just started doing its own thing. And by the time I finished, I literally just looked at my computer and I just pushed it away gently and I took a walk. Because I was like, I don’t know what the hell just happened, but this is a lot. It was much heavier than I was planning to write. So it took me by surprise, basically, when I wrote it, and for me, what I enjoy about the story is, again just that thing where it kind of, digs into a couple of corners, lifts up a couple of carpets to see what is underneath, and I like that. I like moving in those messy spaces, of, you know, the things that humans do. It is so fascinating to me.

Kiprop: Yeah, that is so true, especially the journey of their friendships and the kind of intimate experiences that they shared from their childhood, and the secrets they kept together. And for them to grow up, and move to different countries, and sort of have experiences that distance each friend from the other friend. I just found that so fascinating. It was like, I don’t even know what to say about it, but it was a story that really moved me.

Akwaeke: My editor that worked with me on it, when we were talking about the story first, she pointed out, something. You know when you write a story and other people give you readings into it, that you didn’t realize you were writing, but once you look at it from their perspective, it suddenly becomes clear that oh of course, this is the thing that is happening in the story. So it turns out in that story, it touches on, kind of the duality of living in diaspora, returning home. There is specifically a duality of identity, where there is this person that you are in the west, where being an individual is pushed forward, and then there is the person you are supposed to be at home, where a community is pushed forward, and you are supposed to push your individual self to the back, for the greater good of the community, for the greater good of your family etcetera. So it was pointed out that each of the characters inhabited these spaces in different ways. So Aima had moved home and she had completely moved into that whole space of, “I need to do what my family wants, what my community expects”, which is to get married, so she completely succumbs to that side. Femi, meanwhile, is caught in the middle where he wants to find a balance. He wants to be true to himself, but she has left him. So he is trying to decide, which version of himself he is going to be. He is fighting succumbing to that family pressure, where you have to get married and fulfill all these rules. Ahmed is my favourite because he has found who he is. And he is that person regardless of where he goes. So he doesn’t have that struggle of, Oh am I this person when I am here? Am I this person when I am there?” So he is comfortable. He can sit with everything that he has done. I think it is my favourite because that is who I try to be as a person. I think we fool ourselves if we think that we are the most, whether it is the most moral. If we don’t confront the parts of ourselves that are hidden and tucked away in corners. If we don’t know the full capacity of the horrible things we could do under certain circumstances. If you don’t recognize your own inhumanity in yourself. Then you are really not going to be able to recognize it in other people. So I am a huge proponent of knowing yourself. Even the parts of yourself, that you are ashamed of, disgusted of, or go against your own moral code.

Kiprop: It is true, because I think Femi realizes that eventually in the end, because Ahmed points out a hypocrisy in Femi, where his moral core is only touched, he is only moved to act and make a moral decision towards people who seem to occupy the spaces he belongs to. But, for him, as he moves between those spaces, and as he navigates his life in Nigeria, there are all these other people that he is blind towards. There are all these other so called inhumanities that happen in society. But since they do not filter into his space, he ignores them. And what I found so moving about the story, is at the end, where he actually closes his eyes so that he cannot see what he doesn’t want to see. It is sort of just like defining his space and he is like you know what, “this is what I am going to see, and I am going to push out everything that doesn’t agree with who I am as a human being. I accept that this is what happens in society, and I don’t know, like I am not going to be a hero or anything. I am just going to be like, sort of an Ahmed.”

Akwaeke: I mean to be fair to Femi. It is impossible really, for any one person, to confront all the problems in the world. Like in some sense we really do, when we confront the ones that are in our world. Because how can you take on, you are just one person, how can you take on more than that, how can you take everything. You are just one person. You can’t fix it. You can only try and make what is in your own little, what is the term for it? Like within a particular radius of yourself. You are like okay cool, this is what I can handle; this is what I can try to change.

Kiprop: Okay, there is also a very interesting story that you wrote, called Threshold, about two fascinating human beings.

Akwaeke: Oh my God. You know I haven’t read that story since it went up. I actually avoid that story.

Kiprop: But it is beautiful! For me, like if there are two fascinating people I would like to talk to, it is Kemi and Kachi, because they seem to not really give a fuck, like if that is the kind of description I could give to them. How do you pour hot wax onto your lover’s back as you tell her how you burnt a mosque in which your father was in? I just found it like, I don’t know. You just tell me what you want to tell me. I don’t know what to say.

Akwaeke: I honestly don’t remember, like much of the plot, because seriously, I have been avoiding that story. There is a point with work where the more you write, the worse your older work seems like to you. And I have realized this from reading interviews of authors who have been doing this for years and years. Apparently that feeling never goes away. They don’t like their early work either. So that is something that I try to deal with, where an early work of mine is out there, and I have to be okay with that. And you know what, it is good on some level, because the progress is-it’s transparent. You know like-you can see that this is where I was three years ago. This is what it looks like now. As for that story, what was the question about the hot wax?

Kiprop: For me that is the part of the story that really stood out where- Kachi is the guy right?

Akwaeke: I believe so. You know what, let me look at the story real quick since my memory…

Kiprop: Okay, so let me speak as you search because there was a moment…

Akwaeke: Kachi was the girl actually…

Kiprop: Oh Kachi was the girl. So Kemi, they are in bed together. And they are being intimate and Kemi is pouring hot wax on Kachi’s back, because that is her thing or his thing, I don’t know. And at that moment he is telling her how he burnt down a mosque when he was a teenager I believe.

Akwaeke: Aah no. It wasn’t him that burnt down the mosque. No, he was telling her how the mosque as burnt down. And he wasn’t involved in that. His father just never came home that day.

Kiprop: oh yeah, so I think I read too much into the story. I think I turned the narrative and added my own twist.

Akwaeke: You thought he murdered his father inside a mosque!

Kiprop: Yes.

Akwaeke: That is actually an excellent story Kiprop. You should hold onto that idea.

Kiprop: Okay, let me speak about another story that I love from you. How to Hide a Child. And, you know the funny thing about fiction is that it can make you sympathize with the villain, like the person who would have been the villain in the world that we live in, with all its pressures and all its structures. And it can actually make you throw the victim in prison, and throw away the key. Something like that. And in how to hide a child, I really incipiently, understood why. Can I give away the plot?

Akwaeke: It is you people’s platform. It is up to you if you want to give spoilers.

Kiprop: Alright. I understood why the father had to kill the child, because I felt that in the world that they lived in, how vulnerable he felt towards his estranged wife-that was the only possible way to guarantee this child peace. Because I was so afraid of the mother getting back the girl because she seemed a person who had the vilest intentions towards this girl. And you know, human beings we have this power of really breaking down other human beings. We have this sense. We have this incredible power as human beings, and we can easily use that power to destroy people who love us. And she seemed like she could really twist this child, and break her into pieces, and she had done a little bit of that to the father as well. I was actually relieved when I read at the end, where the girl’s, the child’s heart stops. I was like, “aah, this is good”. I have never…

Akwaeke: You felt that she was safe. Oh, then that is perfect.

Kiprop: You wanna say something about that story as well?

Akwaeke: What is interesting about the story that I didn’t realize until other people were talking to me about it, is that I actually never said that the other parent is a man. I didn’t mean to. It wasn’t deliberate. The gender of the parent who is with the child is never stated at all. So it is interesting to see, how people…sorry go ahead.

Kiprop: No, it is true. I am just understanding now, what you are saying, how we quickly identify the genders of the parents, as a reader, without that being your intention as a writer, because you never really gave that away. But I sort of, swiftly, identified the gender. I don’t know…

Akwaeke: Yeah exactly. So people think when the narrator is talking about the wife. And people say, “Oh, wife-husband, mother-father”, and they automatically go there. I think it was when I was workshopping the story at some point, and someone pointed out that the gender was never stated, whether this are two women that are married, whether it’s a man and a woman, whether it is a non-binary person and a woman. But, at some point, you know the work, belongs to the reader, so whatever people put on. Because I didn’t put anything. And how the story ended, at least that option, that feeling you had, for example, where you felt relief, because you felt like the child was safe. That makes me happy because I honestly believe that, in terms of what we talked about earlier, navigating humanity, and the things that human beings do, and sometimes I think people like to stand on a certain moral ground, where they say “I would never do something like that, I can’t ever imagine doing something like that”. Sometimes, not all the time with my work, but sometimes I like to, try and shift that a little bit. Because I think if you stand in certain given positions, everything that any human being does, makes complete sense. You just have to stand in the correct way, and then you can see, “Oh, of course.” If you enter that context, if you inhabit that person, and you understand where they are coming from, you understand why they do certain things. It doesn’t make it necessarily right or wrong, but I think it strips away some of that wall that people build, where they are like, “I don’t understand how anybody could possibly do this.” And when you dismantle that, and you realize that really, people can do all kinds of things, people you know, people you could completely swear and vouch for, and it is not like there isn’t precedence. We see it in the entire, you know, history of the world, where people who were neighbours one day, can kill each other the next day. It happens. It has happened. Like people have seen it happen, and yet we continue to be in denial about what people are capable of.

Kiprop: This person who was your neighbor. You ate each other’s food, and then one day, because of some political crisis, you just took a machete and hacked them. Yeah, that is a very frequent narrative in Africa and it’s…

Akwaeke: All the time. Around the world I am sure. Not just in Africa.

Kiprop: True. Well, I think, thanks to literature then we can create spaces where our human acts and our human experiences can be understood. Somebody can read a book and be like, “Hmm, so I am not the only one who thinks this way.” Because there is a lot of silences that go on in our society, and because maybe there is a proper way of thinking, of speaking about events. And I love it when literature sort of turns that table around and makes you, I don’t know, have a new thought or have a new feeling. Yeah, for me that is always amazing.

Akwaeke: Definitely. Likewise.

Kiprop: And you spoke a bit- I am just curious about. I didn’t know that you never identified the parents in How to Hide a Child. And in the navigation of our humanity, in your opinion or in your writing, how does gender matter? You know that is a very basic question that has been spoken about like for the last 2000 years. Maybe there is no fresh thing we can say about that. You know there are many ways of identifying with gender, and there are so many ways of expressing your gender. And, does the navigation of one’s humanity, take a unique form based on how they identify, and how they express their gender? Or how they simply choose to dismiss it, and be non-binary, choose another form of identity as human beings?

Akwaeke: Who is the ‘they’ in this scenario?

Kiprop: You can choose any perspective that feels that you wish to speak about. I can’t. I do not want to-you choose.

Akwaeke: I am just trying to understand the question in terms of the work, how it connects.

Kiprop: For example, in Burial, Ify and her cousin, Gabriele. They have a certain way of expressing, okay they identify as women, as I believe, and express themselves in a manner that suits how women should express themselves in the context that they exist in. And, would it have been different if, I don’t know, they, if they were different from who they are.

Akwaeke: It would be a different story, wouldn’t it?

Kiprop: It would be a different story, but that burden, that sense of. Coz for me I didn’t understand how Gabriele-it was a very difficult story for me in the sense that I didn’t understand how she didn’t have any agency to this. Like she is a person who is very rooted to a place, she loves the house she lives in, she loves the outside environment. She has this deep sense of community to where she belongs to. But now the father has died, and all of a sudden, the mother is like, “Oh I am sending you away to this city which makes very little sense to you. And I am gonna send you off to stay with this uncle whom you detest, and who is lusting after you.” And I just felt as if, I don’t know. I wanted her to have some sort of conclusion to this, a sort of standpoint, where she could sort of, I don’t know, express what she wants, and have people listen to her. Because I felt as if she was just outside her body, and outside her mind, and outside her experiences, and just letting things go on as they wanted to. That happens to every human being outside there. But, I just thought about gender when I was reading about her. I don’t know if you are understanding my question. Are you understanding me?

Akwaeke: I think it is interesting that you jumped to gender as a marker of why you were uncomfortable with her situation. I mean first of all she is a child. So as a child, there is not much you can do if your parents decide to relocate. She is what. Twelve? Thirteen? So in terms of where you say that she doesn’t seem to have much agency, well, in that sense she is a child, but I think what is more interesting. I don’t think this has anything to do with gender actually. I think it is interesting because, it sounds like, for me, your reaction to the story that you wanted more closure? Or more justice?

Kiprop: Yes. That is what I wanted. Coz I just thought really, coz she comes across as very clever, very intelligent, very able to read people around her, and understanding what is going on, without anyone revealing to her what is going on. And I just thought that maybe, she has a bit of pluck, and she could, I don’t know, use that pluck.

Akwaeke: You wanted a happy ending.

Kiprop: Yes.

Akwaeke: You wanted happily ever after. That is understandable. That is a very human response. To want, you know. Because I think that is a good response actually. Because that should be, I think, a response to a situation like that; where you want things to be okay, you know, you want the person that has been hurt to get justice, you want her to be safe, you want you know. I think that is good. I don’t think the story is meant to make you feel better

Kiprop: No, not at all. It is so depressing. Because especially at the end where you actually feel, it is gonna be like, that part in the movie where everybody confronts the truth and the villain is identified, because she is gonna speak to the mother and tell her everything about the uncle, and they are gonna get angry and mad, and I don’t know, chase the uncle away from the house. But then she walks away and goes upstairs and cries. It was too painful.

Akwaeke: My work here is done.

Kiprop: But that is really beautiful. I love what you are saying because, personally I believe, gender should never really matter, how somebody identifies, and how somebody expresses or chooses not to express, or chooses not to identify with gender, or the different kinds of gender that are available for people to choose from.

Akwaeke: But what you are saying has nothing to do with gender or identity. What you are saying actually has to do with you and your reaction, to a piece of work that left you feeling sad and uncomfortable. So, I don’t think that has anything to do with-that doesn’t even have anything to do with the character, or identity, that is just…

Kiprop: That has everything to do with me.

Akwaeke: An emotional response to a work, and which is fine you know. I am honoured actually. I love when I can hear reactions to the work because then feel like, you know, I did something.

Kiprop: Yeah, true. That is wonderful. And I read something fascinating from your statement. Maybe this could be the last question- where you said, you try to see, I don’t know if it is yourself or if it is us as human beings-where we are spirits locked in our bodies. Sort of like our humanity or our sense of being is more than the bodies we occupy. And, okay, for me this is interesting because like I said earlier, as human beings we are never given the option to identify, or to say who we are, because people look at us and how we look like, and judge us quickly. They tell us who we are. And just that idea to me that a spirit locked in a corporeal form, I don’t know if I am pronouncing that correctly, I just find it so; I think this is a very personal question, but I find it so liberating, because at times there is a limitation to being a human being, because you occupy a body. But if you are a spirit, you could be anything. I don’t know. Are you getting me?

Akwaeke: Perhaps. I don’t want to talk about it in terms of, you could do anything, because the locked in a corporeal form, indicates limitation. So there is a trapped quality to it, if that makes sense, so I don’t think it in terms of freedom. I think it actually in terms of the opposite-confinement. But I think the perspective is different. There is a certain detachment that comes with separating oneself from one’s physical flesh form. And I think that detachment changes how you view the world around you, how you view other people, how you move in the world around you. I think it changes a lot, and that is why a lot of my current work is sensed around.

Kiprop: Now the very, very last question. The last one for real. We met at a workshop in Ghana, and one of the statements you told me-we were having dinner and we were having this debate. You told me that as a writer or as an artist, what really matters is your craft. So conversations should focus less on the industry, and focus more on your craft. And how you as an artist, you become present to your craft, you remain pure to the project that is at hand, and you simply become present to the work that is before you. So is this like an accurate assessment of who you are as a writer? That you simply have this moment of truth where you feel this is the work that I want to bring to light and make it a shared reality, and I am going to be present to it, without cluttering it with all the other events that matter, when it comes to making it a shared reality. How did you come to that conclusion that what matters to you more is a complete dedication to your artistry as opposed to worrying so much about how the industry operates, and where you can fit in, inside the industry?

Akwaeke: Well, first of all. I wouldn’t- I didn’t say that the conversation should be about, because I think people should talk about whatever they want to talk about; conversations can be about whatever they want to. I don’t believe in policing what is important to other people. Or what other people want to talk about. For me, personally, what got me to that conclusion was that; say you want the accolades for example, say you want to win prizes, you want to hit bestseller lists. You want all of that. Which is fine. The issue is you literally can’t get any of that unless you create the work first. It is just like a ticket. It is literally, like a sequence. In order for these things that people want, to happen, as artists, you have to have the work. You cannot win a prize if you do not have work to enter for it. You can’t sell a book, if you don’t have a book that you wrote. So I think, it is practicality actually. Because, I wouldn’t even pretend to be an artist who is like, “I am just here for the work. I don’t care about anything else.” Because at the end of the day, I love winning as much as the next person. I used to joke and say that I wasn’t a competitive person. Then one day my mother pulled me aside, and said, you know what, you need to stop lying. I was so outraged. I was like, “What do you mean? I am not competitive! Oh my gosh!” And my mother said, “You are so competitive, that you don’t even compete, unless you think you are going to win.” And I was just there like, “oh my God!” I was so upset. She was right, but still, just telling me my business like that. It was a bitter pill to swallow. So I do have that part of me that wants to win things, that wants the accolades. Really because, I feel there is-in order for you to make substantial change, you need platforms. You need power really. Just in order for you to make the changes that you want to see in the world. I am not creating work so that I can sit there and say that I created work. I am creating work for specific reasons, for example, so that people can see themselves. Have that matter to somebody. And have that affect somebody else positively. But, in terms of, just again back to the practicality. If the work doesn’t exist, then 100%, none of these other things will exist. You will never win a prize if you don’t write in the first place. So I try to focus on that. And also because that is the one thing that I have control over. I don’t have control over the other things. So as much as I may want them, or care about them, they also don’t matter. In terms of practicality. Because these are things that are up to judges. These are things that are very subjective. These are things that are influenced by a vast number of factors that I can’t control. What I can control, is creating the work. For me personally, I try not to adopt markers of success that are out of my control. Because then, that means, I am putting my validation in other people’s hands. If I say, “Oh, my work doesn’t matter unless it wins XYZ thing”, then I have completely taken power away from myself. So I try to focus on the fact that the work has to exist. And have the existing of the work be the success that matters to me. Yes, every other thing would be nice. Every other thing would be a perk on top of it. But just to keep myself grounded, so that I don’t lose focus. Because once you start engaging in these things, it gets very distracting. And you can get very caught up and lose focus. Because then you are caring about other things that are A. Not the work, and B. Not under your control. So personally I like to say, you know what, if I want XYZ things, I actually can’t control it. The most I can do is make the work to the best of my current ability, put it out there, go back, make some more work to the best of my current ability. And I hope that my ability continues to improve, so that the work keeps getting better and better. But at the end of the day, it is really just a practical thing that keeps me sane.

Kiprop: Thank you so much for that AKwaeke. It was a lovely conversation. May be you could tell the audience, people who will read this conversation, where they could find you, where they could read you, where they could talk to you, if that is possible. Like how could they access you?

Akwaeke: I am helpfully, very easily stalkable on the internet. My website is And literally everything is linked there. All social media platforms. All the stories. Well, Threshold isn’t linked there because I have been running away from it. But I am sure people can google.

Kiprop: Okay. So it has been a pleasure

Akwaeke: Likewise.

Akwaeke Emezi is an Igbo/Tamil writer and filmmaker based in liminal spaces. She was born in Umuahia and raised in Aba, Nigeria. In 2015, Akwaeke was awarded a Morland Writing Scholarship and shortlisted for the Wasafiri New Writing Prize. She is a 2016 Kimbilio Fellow and a graduate of the Farafina, Callaloo, and Caine Prize Writing Workshops. She was also the 2015 Writer-In-Residence at the Hub City Writers Project and a 2014-15 Harriet’s Gun Media QBWT-Artist. Akwaeke’s debut novel FRESHWATER is forthcoming from Grove Atlantic (Fall 2017/Winter 2018) and her work is available online at