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Together with the Women's Prize for Fiction, we’ve launched Futures to highlight the talent of the next generation of female writers and support them to have the long and illustrious careers we think they deserve.
Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Chibundu Onuzo, 31, signed her first book deal at just 19. Her debut The Spider Kings, published in 2012, won a Betty Trask Award. She's since written two other novels, including her latest Sankofa. In 2018 Chibundu was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, as part of its '40 Under 40' initiative.
What was the inspiration behind your most recent novel, Sankofa?
Sankofa was inspired by my PhD research on the West African Student’s Union (WASU), a group based in Camden Town from 1925 to 1970. A lot of WASU members went on to become important political figures in West Africa. I was very interested in the period of their life when they were unknown students, tramping around London and dreaming big dreams. I also met people like my main character Anna, who had West African fathers that had come over to study in England and returned home, leaving behind pregnant girlfriends.
Tell us about your journey to publication.
I started my first novel when I was ten, so it was a long, arduous, journey to being published at twenty-one. In those eleven years I started and discarded many projects. I tried my hand at a short story collection. I played around with points of view and perspectives. Even though it didn’t feel that way at the time, I now realise that none of this writing was wasted. It was all practice for The Spider King's Daughter, my first published novel.
What motivates you as an author?
The finished product motivates me. I like reading and enjoying something I’ve written.
What is your favourite book by a woman?
Everything Good Will Come by Sefi Atta. This book should be on every reading list about female friendship. It follows two friends from childhood, to adolescence, to womanhood and it’s just amazing. If you loved Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Chronicles, then this is for you.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
It’s something credited to Bill Gates: "People overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years." In other words, pace yourself. This writing life is a marathon not a sprint.
What do you think you’d be if you weren’t a writer?
I am a singer. I’ve just released my first single Good Soil in 2020. But if I wasn’t a writer, perhaps I would have released my music sooner.
Which female author do you find most inspiring?
Toni Morrison. Technically, it doesn’t get much better than her prose. I particularly love how she unapologetically placed the black experience at the centre of her novels. And before she became a novelist, she worked as an editor at Random House, bringing black voices like Angela Davis and Muhammad Ali to the American public. She was just an all-round legend.
Do you have any writing routines or ticks?
I hum when I read over my work. I think it’s something about checking the rhythm of my sentences but I don’t know for sure.
What’s your favourite Women’s Prize winning book?
Small Island by Andrea Levy. She took an overlooked part of British History and brought it to life. She told the story of the Windrush Generation with sympathy, energy and humour.
What do you hope to have achieved as a writer in ten years' time?
I’m working on a trilogy of children’s books, so I want to have completed that. And I want to have completed a fourth novel for adults. And written for film and television. Either adapting my own novels or working on an original idea. I also want to have released an album. I want to do a lot basically.
Vote for the Futures winner
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