Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma has been hailed as the heir to Chinua Achebe. He was born into a family of 12 children in the southwestern part of Nigeria, where he grew up speaking Yoruba, Igbo, and English. His first novel, The Fishermen, published in 2015, was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. His second novel, An Orchestra of Minorities, was one of the most anticipated of 2019.
As a child, Obioma says he was fascinated by Greek myths and the British masters, including Shakespeare, John Milton, and John Bunyan. He’s also a Christian who grew up in the Assemblies of God and now attends a Baptist church.
He says that Orchestra is the book he always wanted to write. It’s a novel about West African belief systems, as Paradise Lost was written in the Christian tradition. The novel also borrows the familiar classical scaffolding of Homer’s Odyssey, loads it with African folklore and languages and casts a poor migrant farmer in the lead role. It reads like an epic myth, spanning 500 years and both the earth and the cosmos, narrated by the protagonist’s ancient guardian spirit.
Regarding the title, Obioma said in another interview: “No matter how privileged you think you are, on a spiritual level, we are all minorities–small things.”
This story asks if it’s ever possible for the “minorities” in the cosmos—all of us—to overcome that which has been deemed our fate.
Obioma recently joined the Image editorial advisory board. He spoke with Image’s Executive Editor, Mary Kenagy Mitchell, at the Glen Workshop in Santa Fe. In this episode, they discuss how language acts as barrier and bond, the spirituality of rivers, the reality of evil and how Christianity looks different in America.
- Chigozie Obioma, The Fishermen
- Chigozie Obioma, An Orchestra of Minorities
- On the haunting death that inspired Orchestra of Minorities
- Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.