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"I Do Not Want To Write Nice, Safe Black Women" – Irenosen Okojie On Finding Her Voice As An Author

The great Toni Morrison had a saying that is magic dust on the tongue: “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written, you must write it.” This was a manifesto to be fuelled by, a mantra to chant at dawn, a nebulous bridge requiring my hands to build it. And so, I became a maker of strange, fantastical worlds upending readers’ expectations.

I must declare that I would not be a writer if not for Toni Morrison and June Jordan. If not for their indefatigable spirits and radical intentions, if not for the permission they gave me on days it seemed impossible to write a sentence let alone manifest fictional cartographies.

A spirited, mischievous child, I spent the first years of my life in Nigeria. I grew up between the vibrant streets of Lagos and the rural, lushly green parts of Benin. Oral griot style stories are a part of my DNA. Later, aged eight I moved to Holt, Norfolk in the UK to attend boarding school with my big brother who I would have followed to the ends of the earth. Adjusting to different cultural modes was difficult initially, but books gave me courage. I was a voracious reader from childhood. I inhaled stories as a form of sustenance.