The dust jacket of Nnedi Okoraforâ€™s new book, â€œWho Fears Deathâ€ is artistically illustrated with a young woman profiled against a desert scene. Are those angel wings sprouting from her or are they something a little darker? Look closer, the wings will give you a hint about what lies inside the pages of this sci- fantasy thriller.
This is the first adult novel for Okorafor and although it is a coming of age story of a young African girl, Oneyesunwu, there are enough grisly depictions to make it adults only.Â
Horrific scenes of rape, genital mutilation and genocide are played out against a battle by a young woman to create a world worth living in. Oneyesunwuâ€™s name was chosen carefully by her mother. It means â€œwho fears deathâ€.
Oneyesunwu, a product of genocidal rape, is different and not just in a physical sense with lighter skin and facial characteristics which show her cross tribal parentage. Her mother recognizes that she is special in a magical way and destined to confront the genocidal holocaust of Africa. In many ways the book, set sometime in the future, is an alternate gender-bender Star Wars with a female protagonist out to change a much grimmer world. It has a pure science fiction quest mixed in with magical realism in large doses.
Okorafor is writing professor at Chicago State University, a graduate of the University of Illinois and a graduate of MSUâ€™s School of Journalism Masters program. She is the daughter of Nigerian-born parents and has written two previous young adult novels, â€œZahara the Windseekerâ€ and â€œThe Shadow Speakerâ€.
She recalls while at MSU pondering whether to pursue a career in journalism or to be a fiction writer. She had applied for both an internship with a Chicago daily newspaper and a slot in the prestigious Clarion Science Fiction Workshop. She was not chosen for the internship, but was accepted for the Workshop which at that time was held in East Lansing. It has since been moved to the West Coast.
She said it was the workshop that thrust her into the role of a writer and one she embraced full tilt. But it was the death of her dad that pushed her to write her newest book.
Â â€œThe workshop introduced me to Octavia Butler (African American science fiction writer who was an author-in residence) and while working on my Masters I did a lot of writing.
I admitted to myself that I was a writer and came out of that closet.â€
Okoraforâ€™s science fiction writing may have been strongly influenced by Octavia Butler, but her writing style and dark thematic approach is comparable to horror-master Stephen King.
The author says about her new book, â€œThis one was differentâ€.
â€œI felt it was dictated to me-it just came.
It was as if I wanted to find out what happened next.â€
She said she had â€œnightmaresâ€ about some of the themes as she edited them.
Also while on campus she has fond recollections of working for Ray Walsh at Curious Book Shop in East Lansing. The bookstore is noted for their collection of the science fiction genre.
â€œI still have my t-shirts from the store.â€
Â At MSU she credits her discovery of the MSU Special Collections and the Africana Collection of the Library with influencing her writing which complemented the African folk tales she heard from family members while growing up.
Okorafor will be at Schuler Books and Music in the Eastwood Towne Center, Wednesday, June 2 Â at 7 p.m.