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An Evening with Nnedi Okorafor

The University Libraries will host “An Evening with Nnedi Okorafor” on Thursday, November 9 from 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. to discuss her literary achievements and address the topics surrounding them. As a contemporary and cross-cultural novelist, Dr. Nnedi Okorafor will guide us through her unique storytelling perspective and shed light on the global issues it orbits.

It’s easy to associate the science fiction genre with robots, spaceships, and male heroes who overcome intergalactic and dystopian hardship. Okorafor, University of Buffalo professor and award-winning novelist, on the other hand, defies the stereotype. Drawing on her Nigerian heritage and experiences with social injustice, Okorafor writes stories that address present-day issues through futuristic and fantastical takes on northern and western African cultures. From witches to extraterrestrial university students, Okorafor’s characters challenge mainstream ideas of womanhood, mythology, travel, and social structure.

At the 4th Annual Igbo Conference at the University of London, Okorafor gave her keynote audience some insight into her life and why she tells stories. Her parents moved to the States in 1969 to work as doctors, and throughout the 80s they took Okorafor and her siblings on family trips to Nigeria to visit relatives. A “clear, far-from-rosy, yet unconditional love for all things Nigerian grew within [her] from those trips,” and at age 19 she started writing creatively, inspired by the American / African dichotomy.

She noticed how young women were held to strict homemaking expectations in Nigeria; however, she also noticed that the U.S. held a pejorative, but starkly incorrect view of Africa. In her speech she explains that she “was very aware of the stereotypes in the West about the entire continent of Africa,” so she “decided to take those stereotypes and turn them on their heads with a science fictional flair.” From there, her stories became empowering and took ownership of her parent nation’s culture.

Okorafor’s unique style and messages have garnered attention from HBO which has optioned her 2010 novel Who Fears Death. The story follows a child of rape, Onyesonwu, who is born into a post-apocalyptic and war-torn Sudan. Over time she discovers her own magic powers that send her on a journey to meet powerful spirits, fragments of her lost culture, and an evil force which tries to kill her. Author George R.R. Martin will serve as one of the show’s executive producers, and he looks forward to working with Okorafor: “I met Nnedi a few years ago, and I’m a great admirer of her work. She’s an exciting new talent in our field, with a unique voice. Even in this Golden Age of television drama, there’s nothing like Who Fears Death on the small screen at present, and if I can play a part, however small, in helping to bring this project to fruition, I’ll be thrilled.” (full blog post here)

As for her fiction, Okorafor is internationally recognized and has won many awards. She is the winner of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (Who Fears Death), the Best Book of the Year (Akata Witch), the Wole Soyinka Prize for African Literature (Zahrah the Windseeker), a CBS Parallax Award (The Shadow Speaker), the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novella (first book of the Binti trilogy), and the Africana Book Award (Chicken in the Kitchen), among several other titles. Her books range from children’s stories to adult fiction, and she has also published a collection of short stories (Kabu Kabu) for which Whoopi Goldberg wrote a foreword.

This literary momentum has not only garnered attention from HBO— Okorafor’s first comic has recently appeared in Marvel’s anthology Venomverse. The comic, entitled “Blessing in Disguise,” is set in Lagos and “features a girl named Ngozi (a name that means blessing).” But Okorafor’s fandom does not stop at Marvel comics; in June, she announced that she has written a story for the 40th Anniversary Star Wars: From A Certain Point Of View anthology where she has given voice to the cephalopod who compacts trash in the Star Wars series. She titled this story “The Baptist.”

Okorafor aims to shift reader perspectives to the culture of the future. Her work speaks out about racism, feminism, war, and social change. She pushes her readers to consider where our social expectations should be today so that we can ensure positive outcomes— social justice— in the future. As a first generation Nigerian-American, Okorafor’s sci-fi takes an approach based on African culture and gives her audience a new vantage point for modern sociopolitical issues.

The University Libraries are honored to have Okorafor speak and engage at “An Evening with Nnedi Okorafor.” Along with a talk and Q&A session, other perks to the event include snacks, book signing, and an opportunity to purchase some of the author’s works. Okorafor is a radiant writer with an inspiring presence. Join us and take away a wonder for sci-fi and keen vision for the what the future may hold.

The event will take place in the first floor Newman Library Multipurpose Room (101S) and is sponsored by: University Libraries Diversity Council, Department of English, The Humanities at Virginia Tech, Gloria D. Smith Professorship of Africana Studies, Virginia Tech Black Cultural Center, Moss Arts Center, Virginia Tech Africana Studies, Residential College at West Ambler Johnston, Virginia Tech Women’s and Gender Studies

Written by Alec Masella