You have no items in your cart. Want to get some nice things?Go shopping
For this instalment of A Flash of Inspiration, we’re featuring “For I Have Sinned” by Bryan Okwesili, which originally appeared in Litro on December 27, 2021.
Hello, Bryan, and thanks for joining us for this interview.
I am most honoured.
You have an impressive body of work – how long have you been writing flash fiction and what drew you to this form?
I began telling stories at an early age, short, simple stories about how Sundays were only but boring and how much I loved chewing ice cream cones. I think this style of creating art in brief flashes stuck from childhood. I didn’t have much time to write. I did mostly reading. So, my stories began and ended as quickly, and I thought they were good. At least, my close-knit friends thought so, too. Growing up, I discovered flash fiction, and what particularly drew me to this form was its ability to say so much in so few words, and still retain its beauty, its satisfaction.
How do you feel that flash fiction compares to other genres?
I should think flash fiction is just as beautiful as other genres, but the hardest to write. There is something about it that is most demanding – uncertainty; to say or not to say. What do you kill? What do you ignite? I should also think that in a world so hurriedly skipping against time, flash fiction creates a slice of satisfactory literature easily devoured in between tick tocks.
Your story “For I Have Sinned” brings the reader in close with themes of religion and guilt and queerness in the Nigerian context, and in your bio you mention your aim to explore the interiority and tensions of queerness. Could you expand upon that for us?
Sometimes, queerness is defined by its acceptability. In Nigeria, everything condemns queerness – society, religion, culture, the law. This homophobic grip of queer people aimed at annihilation or sometimes forced “sexual reorientation” creates tensions amongst queer people in Nigeria, who, most times, live their lives in denial of their true sexuality or risk atrocious dehumanisation in living their truth. Here, there is the anti-gay law with incarceration of up to 14 years, there is the weekly Sunday homily pontificating the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, there is the cruel victimisation of queer persons on the streets, there is the spiteful cyberbullying of queer persons across social media platforms, then, there is the prevailing ignorance, steeped in stereotypes, amongst the non-queer folks as to what it means to be queer. My aim is to retell the narrative in ways that do not necessarily challenge stereotypes, but humanises; people, in trying to understand a thing, seek the humanity in it. I believe in the ability of not just stories but also other genres of literature to do that. And speaking of other genres, I wrote a poem last year, “Preacher Man Knows My Name,” which was nominated for a Pushcart prize. I found the inspiration for the poem from a beautiful quote by Billy Porter: “The first thing that is taken away from LGBT people is our spirituality.” My poem was an introspective affirmation of its truth.
Tell us about the origin of some of your stories and the readers you have in mind. And some of your creative preferences: urban or rural? Domestic or exotic? Language or plot? First, second, or third person? Male or female protagonist?
My stories, most times, are spurred from the need to explore reality, telling other stories that do not always say a boy loves a girl, stories that strip society of hypocrisy, and exploring queerness, especially in African society, I think, is just as important as the many books on what is familiar. I write for everyone. I believe literature, as art, is self-expression in freedom. I do not expect my readers to be mostly queer, although I always leave so much heart for them in my works. I want them to read it and see that they could be just as beautiful in any art form.
I am most comfortable with rural settings because I grew up in a rural area. But I write urban, too. Domestic or exotic? Either. I am most interested in language as much as I am with plot. I am quite a slow writer, paying attention to every sentence, stirring it till it sings. I want to grow into using language in unusual creative ways, like Binyavanga Wainaina. Point of view picks itself most times — How do I want it to be read? The sex of my protagonist depends on the story itself.
What were you doing when your best ever idea came to you?
Reminiscing on the beauty in the work of Chimamanda Adichie – Half of a Yellow Sun. I imagined a queer Ugwu, and it struck me, the existence of queer persons during the Biafra civil war. I wanted to tell that story. I did. Named it “The Other Half of a Yellow Sun,” and it got nominated for a Pushcart prize, too. I consider it my best idea. I believe the war deserves the story, deserves every story.
Tell us a little about your writing routine and how you feel about the act of writing.
I am a student of Law at university. Sometimes, school work comes in the way, and I do not write much. I write on weekends, preferably, evenings when my thoughts are open to caressing. I like to think a bowl of chocolate ice cream beside me sharpens my mind.
What do you think are the biggest challenges of producing a successful piece of flash fiction?
Expression and clarity. Many a time, a writer is caught between saying more or less.
What do you do with an unconvincing piece of work? Rework/recycle/reject?
I rework. And rework. After a while, if it still fails, I let it go. I take it that it isn’t my story to tell.
Many of us are writing in different corners of the world and share our work through social media platforms. How connected do you feel to a community of writers? Is this important to you?
I do not belong to any community of writers. I want to. There are many young writers I admire and whose works I read. I send unsolicited feedback to them. It is a way of connecting with them, of acknowledging their art as important. I receive feedback, too. I like that. It fills me with so much warmth.
Do you think our themes and interests overlap across the globe?
Yes, I do. It is the beauty of art; exposing the similarities in our differences.
Whose words do you admire? Who has influenced your work most?
African writers are stunningly conscious. Early on, I admired the graceful simplicity of the prose of Chinua Achebe and Cyprian Ekwensi. Now, I am still gripped by the unusual creativity of Binyavanga Wainaina, bless him, and his unapologetic twist of language. Chimamanda Adichie still remains a master in the art of storytelling, stringing sentences perfectly punctuated with humour. There is Johwor Ile, Remy Ngamije, Troy Onyango, Makena Onjerika, Otosirieze Obi-Young, and Lesley Nneka Arimah.
Current bedside read?
And After Many Days by Johwor Ile. I am enjoying his thoughtful expressions and brilliant imagery.
And your future projects?
I am currently working on a collection of queer-themed poems for a chapbook, Hello, Welcome Home, inspired by the chorus of Billie Eilish’s solemn single, “Lovely.” I am most hopeful about this project, and I believe it would be full of so much light.
Thanks so much for speaking with us Bryan and best of luck with your work!
Thank you too for this opportunity. You are most kind.
Join award winning Litro Editor, Catherine McNamara in her 4 week Masterclass
Seats still available Find out more HERE.