Nnedi Okorafor: A Writer’s Rising Profile

Nnedi Okorafor: A Writer’s Rising Profile

Ever since the news broke that Nnedi Okorafor’s first adult novel Who Fears Death has been optioned for a screen adaptation by American TV giant HBO, anticipation levels from fans all over the world have hit an all-time high especially with the Game of Thrones TV series creator, George R. R. Martin reported to be on board the project.

Previously, fans wondered what would succeed the epic series, which just aired its 7th and semi-final season. Though there are already spin-offs in the works, the news of a fresh TV series could not have come at a better time. She is also working with Marvel on a Venom comic. In a recent interview, Okorafor highlights some of the features; “the comic I’m working on is eight pages, so it’s short. It’s going to be featured in an anthology. Venom is symbiote. It’s an alien. I like to say “it,” I think it’s referred to as “he” sometimes. It is an alien that needs to bond with a human host. When it does bond, the host becomes incredibly powerful and monstrous, like super. You see it first on “Spider-Man. That was why I wanted to write it, because I remember I was scared of that. I couldn’t even look at those images, because they were terrifying. Venom verse is where Venom bonds with different heroes in different universes, so in each of these stories, anything could happen. They’re not directly in the Marvel universe, so they’re different parallel universes.”

For those who do not know, Nnedi Okorafor is a Nigerian-American writer based in the United States. She was born to Igbo parents on April 8, 1974, and was once a budding tennis athlete. However, a diagnosis of scoliosis terminated her career but inadvertently evoked the writer in her while recuperating from surgery.

Okorafor is currently an associate professor of creative writing and literature at the University of Buffalo, Chicago. She holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Illinois, Chicago and has won several awards including the Hurston-Wright literary award for Amphibious Green (2001); the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa for, Ahrah the Windseeker; Carl Brandon Parallax Award for The Shadow Speaker and the Macmillan Writer’s Prize for Africa for the children’s book, Long Juju Man, (2007/2008).

Image: www.heardcountyrecreationdepartment.com

Who Fears Death won the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel. It is a tale of magic and technology, set in a dystopian Africa after an ecological showdown. Water is scarce while racism and xenophobia are on the rise. The book revolves around Onyesonwu, a girl born as an ewu (a child of rape) expected to live a life of violence, a half-breed rejected by both tribes.

In the post-Apocalyptic world in which she lives, people exist along racial divides; the predatory white-skinned Nuru tribe and the ebony-skinned Okeke tribe to which Onyesonwu belongs. The Nuru acting on a prophecy are bent on exterminating the Okeke people through slavery, rape, and genocide. This template is what Onyesonwu, the protagonist grows up to experience which thereafter shapes her life’s journey from victim to a bystander and finally to champion.

A champion of her people’s liberation in a war of survival, her transition from zero to hero is made possible as she grows to discover she has magic. She then makes friends and allies and sets out on her journey to stop the war between the Nuru and the Okeke.

There are several parallels to draw from Who Fears Death to the real world. For example, the topical real-life issues of racism, war, global warming and war crimes, which the book extensively highlights, place it on a pedestal far above others. It also shades oppressive and totalitarian regimes, blind superstition but extols self-determination, human rights, and the feminine.

It will be interesting to see how the places (the magical house of the elders), and people (the Red People), are brought to life in its TV adaptation. Also exciting to see, especially for those who have read the book, will be how magic and technology are laced together in Onyesonwu’s sci-fi world. With R.R. Martin on board, there’s sure to be some tweaks and surprises away from the original material, and if the Game of Thrones TV series is anything to go by, then we are in for a big treat. Nnedi Okorafor in a Facebook post wears an air of confidence: “I am very involved. I also know George well (we met in 2014 and stayed in touch); he’s been a sort of mentor to me through all this and all those involved know what this story is; Onyesonwu is in good, good hands.”


Tomiwa Yussuf has a background in History/International studies. With a strong bias for fictional art of varying forms, he contributes to a couple of literary blogs and is an in-house editor at nantygreens.com. When he’s not writing, he pursues other interests like digital marketing, social work and sports.

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