Author Kasimma discusses the process of breathing life into the Igbo culture with her short story collection, All Shades of Iberibe.
Kasimma is an alumni of Chimamanda Adichie’s Creative Writing Workshop, SSDA workshop, IWP, and others. She’s been a writer-in-residence in artists’ residencies across Africa, Asia, and Europe. Her works appear or are forthcoming in The Book Smuggler’s Den, Jellyfish Review, Kiwetu Journal, Orbis Journal, and Afreecan Read. Find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Photo by Marti Albesa
In this post, Kasimma discusses the process of breathing life into the Igbo culture with her short story collection, All Shades of Iberibe, how she learned her greatest fear existed only in her head, and more!
Book title: All Shades of Iberibe
Publisher: Sandorf Passage
Release date: November 2, 2021
Genre/category: Fiction, short stories
Elevator pitch for the book: Against the glare of smartphone screens, spirits of the dead flicker, elders admonish their grown children, rituals are done in secret, and the scars of war are just below the surface in the lives of astonishingly vivid characters. These stories effortlessly inhabit the dark, alluring, and beautiful spaces between mystical Nigerian traditions and our strange contemporary condition.
What prompted you to write this book?
Love for my culture. I finished writing this book, looked back, and realized that I had done nothing but bring into the fore the lore of my folks. I am breathing life to my dying culture, saving what I can for my children and their children.
Igbo culture was dampened by the Brits and further slashed by the swords of the Biafran war. A lot of Igbos bear English names just to fit in. Many Igbos don’t even speak the language anymore, to say nothing of knowing our tradition. What we know is what the Brits taught us about us. Our religion is now paganism. We have become who they say we are. It’s not to be so.
Storytelling is the best way to teach. So I am using stories to tell my people, and the people of this universe, that Igbo amaka!
How long did it take to go from idea to publication? And did the idea change during the process?
When publication arrived, it met my preparedness. I’d written these stories, worked and reworked them, published a few even, and so I was good to go. The idea did not change during the process.
My editor, Buzz Poole, is an amazing person. It was easy to work with him because he got what I was trying to achieve. He enhanced my ideas and added color to the picture. All Shades of Iberibe is what it is today because he did not seek to change, but to pronounce what already is.
Were there any surprises or learning moments in the publishing process for this title?
Yes. I was worried that my story was too “Igbotic.” It made me wonder if there was any need when those for whom I write are just a grain of sand in the desert. Yet, I could not stop writing about Igboness. Imagine my surprise when my editor suggested that we use an Igbo word for the title. That was how “Iberibe” emerged in that title.
And that suggestion not only surprised me, it taught me that my worries were only in my head. It even opened my eyes, very shockingly, to the fact that I am not the only one who has written Igbo characters or culture. Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God are entirely Igbo stories. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun are set in Igboland and are about Igbos. Uwem Akpan’s Say You’re One of Them is a blast of languages and cultures.
The examples are enormous. If these books did well … Well, I learned a hefty lesson.
Were there any surprises in the writing process for this book?
I learned a lot from my characters. After writing this book and sending out the final edits, I started gobbling books about Igbo. I learned that what I had written was not far from the truth, and it scared me. For example, “This Man,” the story about spirits, narrated by spirits. I wrote that story in the middle of the night, without any plan prior to write it that night. I just knew I wanted to write something on that topic, but I did not expect what I produced.
The voices in my head were strong and loud! It was as if there was a jostling in my head for who would be the main narrator. It was as if, at some point, they took over and used my fingers to write. I lost control, no jokes.
Same happened with “The Coffee Addict,” “Shit Faces,” and all the other stories with ghost protagonists. So when I went back to read Igbo texts written by Igbo authorities and realized that these kinds of ghost actually exists, they have a name, their agenda is just as described in my book, I was not only surprised, I was very afraid. I worried if they were there the nights I wrote those stories, especially “This Man.”
Were they there beside me? I tried to remember if I was cold, but I am always cold so? But the thrill of learning was clouded with fear of the reality. What if these ghosts were there? What if what I wrote is the truth and the solution? Jesus!
What do you hope readers will get out of your book?
I hope readers will learn. There is always something to be learned in any work of art. This book is out of my control and in the world. Perceptions and understanding will differ. Learning, is what I hope, will remain constant.
If you could share one piece of advice with other authors, what would it be?
Authors? I am learning from them.
Upcoming writers? Read o! Read! And write. Don’t write what you think they want to read. Write what comes to your heart. Those characters came to YOU for a reason; give them an audience and a voice.
Attend workshops if you can because that way you can learn how to be a writer, not a storyteller.
Throughout this four-week course, you will have feedback and support while you write and hone an entire short story from beginning to end, and you’ll leave with a polished draft of your story. You will get insider information about what editors are looking for in short stories they choose to publish.