I first heard of Jowhor Ile when Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie mentioned his name in an interview and said we should look out for his debut novel. I mean, an endorsement from Adichie is not something to be taken lightly. So I immediately went on the hunt for the novel. It also made me very happy when I found out that the novel was set in Port Harcourt, which is one of my favorite cities ever.
I finally caught up with Jowhor and we chatted over chilled beers. I found him to be very warm, eager and completely without any airs typical with some writers. He agreed to answer a few questions for me and so here goes.
Q: Your novel, And After Many Days, was set in Port Harcourt… What are your earliest memories of Port Harcourt?
Jowhor: Those would be the earliest memories of my life. Sitting in the parlour listening to radio, looking out of the car window as we went down Aba Road to Leventis. Stuck in afternoon traffic at Garrison as we returned from school.
Q: Still talking about Port Harcourt, what do you think is the cause of the tensions in the region especially between oil companies and their host communities? Why is there so much distrust? How can it be fixed?
Jowhor: Corporate greed. Private greed. State greed.
Q: Do you think it’s fair to expect writers to change society through their writing? Should a writer be able to write without these expectations that the work must have a moral lesson or some inherent message?
Jowhor: Individual writers will do what they will do. I believe every citizen has a part to play in how society moves forward. Also ‘Moral lesson’ has to be defined so we know we are speaking about the same thing. There is no book that doesn’t exist in some sort of moral universe.
Q: At what point did you decide you were going to be a writer? And was this decision supported by your family?
Jowhor: I don’t remember ‘deciding’ at any point. I was writing stories from before I was ten. The idea of writer as profession was something I learned of much later. I have a supportive family, but that’s not the answer to the question you asked.
Q: For the most part, your book dealt with the pain of losing a loved one. Do you think that finding the remains of the missing boy gave them some closure? Is it important for humans to find closure when grieving?
Jowhor: Closure is not a word I particularly like. People learn to live with loss. There is something horribly drastic about the loss of a person. The finality of it. The fact that our bodies are really the only way in which we can live in the world and encounter each other. I suppose confronting that body is a way of making sense of death itself, of accepting it.
Q: Police brutality is something we still see in Nigeria today and it is central to the story. How do you think we can fix this?
Jowhor: Building civic structures that work. Accountability.
Q: Away from your book now, what are your thoughts on the literary space in Nigeria today?
Jowhor: It’s really alive. I’m looking forward to a lot of exciting works coming out of Nigeria.
Q: Who are the writers that influenced you while growing up?
Jowhor: I can list some writers I read and admired. Cyprian Ekwensi, Faulkner, Stephen King, Hemingway, Achebe, Virginia Woolf.
Q: What are you currently reading?
Jowhor: I have just finished H Is For Hawk by Helen MacDonald. An extraordinary book that really defies categorization and I’m still marveling at how it is book. Listen to this: it is a grief memoir, a handbook on falconry, a condensed introduction and social history of raptors, poetry. It is also a mediation on love, death, our place in the wild or the place of the wild in us. There are serious arguments in it on conservation, pleas, sermons on nationalism, fascism on war and violence and all these are dealt with in such poetic, moving language. Basically a Cambridge scholar loses her father and comes undone, and then makes a journey.
Q: If you could wave a magic wand and change one thing about the world today, what would it be?
Jowhor: I don’t know.
Q: Finally on a lighter note, if you were to have a dinner party, which five people would you invite and why?
Jowhor: Can I bring my dead father back to life? I often need to hear his opinion on stuff. But to be honest though, I’ll just invite my friends.
Jowhor Ile’s novel was published by Tim Duggan Books in the USA and by Farafina in Nigeria. Contact @rovingheights on Twitter or Instagram to order a copy.
This interview was conducted by Franklyne Ikediasor.
Franklyne Ikediasor is partial to black coffee and a good African Novel. He lives in Port Harcourt Nigeria where he spends his leisure time running, cycling or getting together with friends to share bouts of wine fuelled laughter. He tweets @ThatPortharcourtBoy