Munachim is a breath of fresh air! I totally enjoyed talking to him. In this interview he talks about sexuality, his writivism win and story, money spent on books, his love for Teju Cole and Kambili; a character in Purple Hibiscus. But what I enjoyed most was his raw honesty and genuine sincerity! I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed asking him these questions!
1) THE AFRO READER: Thank you for granting us this interview Munachim. Please, tell us more about yourself!
MUNACHIM: My name is Munachim Amah. I was born in Enugu, raised in Anambra state. I am currently interning at CNN Africa as a digital journalist, and I just recently finished studying for my Masters degree in Media and Communication. I have previously worked as a marketing communications executive and a research assistant – I am still trying to find my rhythm. I am a huge fan of America’s Got Talent. I have a special spot for Darci Lynne, the 12 year old who won the show this year, and Angelica Hale, the powerhouse 9 year old singer. People sometimes describe me as a recluse although I’m not sure if that is entirely true.
2) You recently won the Writivism short story prize. How does that make you feel? You mentioned in an interview that the story was once rejected and then you picked it up and worked on it for the prize. Do you feel some kind of validation? Do you feel now more than ever that your voice and stories matter?
Of course, I feel now that my stories matter – more than ever. I have never been more surprised in my life: winning the prize, having to talk to people about it, becoming something in the eyes of some people, everything just feels like a dream. And I am grateful, really, because writing is something I would never have taken too seriously. It’s something I still don’t take too seriously.
3) When did you realize writing was it? Can you describe the first time you felt you could really create beautiful stories?
I have not come to that point yet. I still don’t know for sure. I mean, I really want to be in the classroom teaching. There are many other things I want to do with my life. So, for now, I just write what I feel is true when I can and put it out there. My prayer always is that it finds the right person.
4) What is the message in your stories and what are your readers’ reactions to it?
I usually write to question things and to understand in the hope that when the story is out there, someone will think about those things too, in the light of the story. How have my readers reacted? Sometimes, you have people writing you to let you know the story worked for them. Some other times, people question your intentions (my best female friend still does not know how to react to Stolen Pieces, and that’s fine). Sometimes, the reaction is silence. Some people read and move on without saying a word.
5) After I read your Writivism Story- STOLEN PIECES; I found my self asking: Who is in the best place to question sexuality, to critique it, to try to understand it. Is it the general public? Or the Individuals themselves like Nkem? Are there rules?
It’s everyone really – the society, different agents and institutions in the society, the concerned individuals, everyone. I don’t think it’s a conversation for the individual alone.
You live in a society, so there are some things you expect the society to do for you and some things you do for the society. There are rules, norms, institutions, and agencies. That is why we have religion and culture and government and law. That is also why we have free will, because even though we live in the society with general norms and rules to protect the sanity of the society, we are still individuals on a journey to somewhere. We have our respective destinations. Our journeys and routes are not the same. You do not judge me because I am not like you. Who says I must be what you want me to be or what you think is the normal or the “original”?
So, yeah, I think that even though the individual has free will and liberty to be his best possible self, even though the individual is in the best position to question and understand sexuality because, he, himself knows himself and where it pinches him the most, I feel that the society can help him explore that by providing a sane and safe space for the individual to discover and actualize himself.
I am going to be very honest and say that I don’t think that the society we live in has become tolerating enough of diversity. We are yet to get there. What we find is that we question sexuality, not to understand it, but to condemn or label it. When you question something to understand it, it is quite different from when you question to condemn or to assign a label to it. In the conversation about sexuality in society, homosexuality particularly, there is already a preconception, a baggage, from the very onset of the conversation that makes it quite impossible to penetrate the high walls.
We are beginning to talk more about it these days because people have refused to keep quiet. Years before, you dare not bring it up in a conversation. You dare not talk about it. You can’t even try to understand what it means – you will be labelled. Reason why the Nigerian government has bundled hate and plain ignorance into the same sex marriage act – which essentially is meant to criminalise same sex marriages but ends up criminalizing expressions of love outside the same-sex marriage it claims to prohibit, which is plain stupid.
These days, we talk more about sexuality, but some resort to talking more about it using coded language. I think we have to be very honest about sexuality if we are to engage with it. If we seek to understand something, we must cast away all fears and ask questions – honest, non-judgmental, non-condemning questions. Ask what it is. Ask a man who feels strong attachment towards another man how love feels to him. Wear his shoes for a moment and imagine what it must be like. Listen without the intent to reply. Listen without judgment. Just listen.
When we, as a society, question sexuality, we must imagine the individual as a human being – like each and every one of us. We must remember that it is the same humanity and flesh and blood that runs through each one of us, and beyond all else, the goal must be to make the world a safer, happier, and better place for everyone to live in.
6) How does social acceptance, consideration affect or limit your writing?
I was once terribly afraid to write about things I care about. I couldn’t even write about them, talk more of sharing them with anyone. I think it’s this consideration of the society you live in and what is considered normal or abnormal, good or sinful. These days, however, I just I write. My job as a writer is actually to make my reader uncomfortable.
7) The general rule is that for you to be a great writer, you must be a greater reader. Growing up, what books did you read? And how did they shape your ability to tell stories?
Growing up, I read different kinds of books. I wasn’t a voracious reader. I still am not. It’s something I hope to become. As a teenager, I loved Sci-Fi, horror, thriller. I love thrillers especially. And so, I read James Patterson, R.L. Stine, Dan Brown, John Grisham. I also read romance – the Mills & Boons and the Harlequins – and a lot of Igbo literature, especially those by Tony Ubesie. I hope to re-read some of these Igbo novels before the end of the year. Reading these books opened my mind to the vast possibilities of storytelling.
8) What writers are you friends with and how do they help you become a better writer?
My closest friends are writers and I think that helps a lot, especially in terms of understanding me when I am not my very best self and giving feedback for my writing. The first person I usually run to with my stories is Abimbola Ige, my friend from the Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop. Bimbo sees my stories before they become anything. Olakunle Ologunro is my best friend from the workshop. We just connected, and still do. I also talk a lot these days with Kelechi Njoku, Troy Onyango and Adams Adeosun. Please do not tell them how in love I am with their beautiful minds.
9) Who are some of your favourite authors? Which writer would you most likely want to have a drink with and why? More like, who is your favourite AFRICAN AUTHOR?!
Favourite authors. A whole lot of them. Chimamanda Adichie, Teju Cole, Igoni Barret, Binyavanga Wainana, Cormac McCarthy, Paula Hawkins, Francine Rivers, et cetera et cetera. I can’t remember them all now, but I love writing that prioritizes emotion.
If I were asked to have a drink with an African author, I would very much like that to be Teju Cole. I admire Teju and the melancholic place his stories come from.
10) Why do you write? What keeps you motivated during writing slumps?
Again, I don’t write a lot. I write only when I have something to say – and I just say it. I am always busy with a lot of other things (school, work, internship, relationships, reading), so when I am not writing, I am doing these other things. And when I eventually want to write and I do not feel up to it, I just sleep or do something else. I love deadlines. They keep my eyes on the goal.
11) Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Oh well, writing wakes up everything inside me. It energizes me. It’s only when I have finished writing that I realize how exhausted I am.
12) What are you currently reading? Do you read several books at once?
I do not now know how to read several books at once. Now, I am reading Stephen King’s On Writing and I am sorry but I have been reading this book for almost two months now and I am really ashamed of myself. Lol.
13) Do you re-read books? If yes, what books have you read more than once?
It’s so difficult for me to re-read books. Maybe years later, when the story has left my head. I recently had to read Things Fall Apart and Half of a Yellow Sun again for school and it was magic. It felt like I was reading them with fresh eyes, and I was seeing things I hadn’t seen before. I also re-read Purple Hibiscus and, my God, I cried. Chimamanda made me cry.
14) What is the most liberating thought you have ever had and what did it liberate you from?
I think it will be the fact that I’ve come to accept that it’s okay to lose Faith and it’s also okay to be at any point on that journey. I was once extremely critical of a lot of things called “worldly” and impatient also with people who were “unserious” with their Faith, what you may like to call lukewarm faith. But I have lost faith myself, and I have found it, and lost it, and found it. There’s nothing shameful about it. Coming to terms with this has helped me to become more accepting of a lot of other things.
15) If you could go back and whisper in the ear of your 16year old, what would you tell them?
Be yourself. Be your best possible self. Stand for what you deserve. Be bold. Look the world in the eyes and live your damn life.
16) What gives you joy?
What gives me joy? Silence gives me joy. I love serenity. I love the comfort of getting lost in books. I love that moment when I am teaching someone and there’s that glint of realisation, of awakening, in their eyes. Plus, credit alerts give me special joy too.
17) What scares you?
What scares me? That society will not accept me for some reason. That I will die unnoticed. That I will die broke.
18) Tell us about the last literary reading or event you attended?
I hardly attend literary events. I will rather stay in my room and lazy around the house. I can’t even remember the last time I attended a literary event, to be honest. I’m sorry but I’m not sure I attended any event this year, besides the Writivism Festival which I met on the closing date, for some special reasons.
19) Packing for a journey and allowed to take one book. What will it be?
I think that would be Americanah. The prose is breathtaking.
20) Advice to others and best advice you have gotten?
When I was parting with Nii Ayikwei Parkes after the attending the Writivism Festival at Kampala, he said to me, “Don’t let go of your dreams.” That’s all I can say to other people at this point. Don’t let go of your dreams.
21) Recommend 5 books you think every one should read!!!
I have no idea. I think different people like different things. For me, my favourite books at the moment would be Purple Hibiscus, Americanah, The Girl on the Train, Open City, The Road.
22) Describe African literature and what does literature mean to you!
African literature, for me, is that story in which I can see myself, that story with characters who are like me in all possible ways. The first time I felt myself fully present in a story this way was when I read Purple Hibiscus. Kambili was just me. Purple Hibiscus was true for me in every way.
23) Do you think someone could be a writer if they do not feel emotion strongly?
Well, yes. People experience writing differently. There’s no one true or perfect way. For me, my writing comes from a deeply emotional place and I am a huge fan of writing that has emotion at its centre.
24) What are some of the struggles you face when you write?
Language. I think of something and I do not know how to express it in words. Or, story ideas that refuse to materialize. I would like to be more creative and playful with my stories. I would like to explore more story ideas and I want to be able to have words for almost everything so that the journey from the head to the page is shorter.
25) What was the best money you ever spent as a writer/reader?
Lol. This question though. I don’t know. I think that would be the money I spent to order some books online in 2015 when I just wanted to read and read and read. The books were not in any Nigerian bookstore, so I had to pay a lot of money to get them from outside Nigeria. It cost me almost N35,000 or so to get about eight books. Can’t say for sure now, but I was grateful I got them. Camara Laye’s Dark Child, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, were in that collection. Till today, I am grateful I got those books.
Munachim Amah explores family, loss, and gender through his writing. He is an alumnus of the 2016 Farafina Trust Creative Writing Workshop and has short fiction and creative non-fiction published in Saraba Magazine, African Writer, Kalahari Review, and forthcoming in Bakwa Magazine.
Click Here to read some of Munachim’s stories
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