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  • An Interview with Sefi Atta1
  • Elena Rodríguez Murphy

Described as one of the leading writers of her generation, Nigerian author, Sefi Atta, is one example of the many different voices that have recently come out of her country. Along with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Chris Abani, and Helon Habila, Sefi Atta exemplifies in her books the new ways in which the diverse members of what has come to be known as the Third Generation of Nigerian authors are currently writing. The works produced by this emergent generation of writers, who use the English language in innovative ways, are an interesting challenge not only to readers, but also to translators around the world.

Sefi Atta was a featured speaker during the 37th Annual African Literature Association (ALA) Conference, held at Ohio University in April 2011, whose theme was "African Literature, Visual Arts, and Film in Local and Transnational Spaces." The following interview was very kindly granted by the author in regard to her successful creative writing, more specifically in relation to her published novels Everything Good Will Come (2005) and Swallow (2010), and her collection of short stories News From Home (2010).

I think everyone lives between different cultures

—Sefi Atta

Elena Rodriguez Murphy: I would like to start by asking you a question related to your collection of short stories, published in Nigeria as Lawless and in the UK and America as News From Home. It seems that the idea of home and homeland may change when analyzed from a distance. Davies has underlined the fact that "Migration creates the desire for home, which in turn produces the rewriting of home . . . Home can only have meaning once one experiences a level of displacement from it" (84).

How has your experience as a Nigerian, who was schooled in England and now lives in the U.S., informed your fiction and influenced your idea of Africa [End Page 106] and Nigeria as home? Does a distance from home allow an interrogation from a different perspective?

Sefi Atta:

I think it does, but it is difficult for me to say how and to what extent because this is the only experience I have had. And I also think that distance can be a physical distance, which is what you are talking about, but it can also be a distance in time, distance in maturity, and emotional distance. So, physical distance is only one. I don't know that it takes precedence over the others, the other kind of distances that you might have from your homeland. But, as I said, this is the only experience I have had. So, if I had something else to compare this with, I might be able to tell you how it affects my writing.


Taking into account the views of Africa you may have encountered in the different places you have lived, do you think that stories written from different perspectives can contribute towards changing certain exclusive ways of thinking about Africa and Africans? Can literature help in drawing a broader picture of Africa and its diverse peoples, allowing for the representation of the many different ways of being African both at home and abroad?


I think it can, but I don't think that that is my duty as a writer. You know, I think that is the duty that each person has, to open their mind to people from other cultures. And I have found that, as an African, whether I am a writer or not, I am constantly battling with people's preconceptions and misconceptions of Africa and, as much as I might try to correct them, I still meet people who have more misconceptions and preconceptions about Africa. So, in a way, after a while, you decide as an African overseas that it is futile to keep correcting people. You reach a point, well, I have reached a point, where I am mostly quiet about it, unless I am particularly moved to correct any notion that I feel is wrong. It is certainly not my duty as a writer; it is the duty of readers to open their minds.


There have been many discussions about the African writer's...


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pp. 106-114
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