Art is Always a Verb: An Interview with Joseph O’Neill & Chigozie Obioma

JOSEPH O’NEILL and CHIGOZIE OBIOMA interviewed by DW GIBSON

Joseph O’Neill and Chigozie Obioma

In celebration of Art Omi’s 30th anniversary, DW Gibson connected with residency alumni to dive into different aspects of their work and process. When presented with the opportunity to interview Joseph O’Neill and Chigozie Obioma, Gibson was eager to talk with them about the importance of place in their fiction because the settings of their novels and stories feel so acutely important. Whether it’s New York in O’Neill’s Netherland, Dubai in The Dog, or the village of Akure in Obioma’s The Fishermen, the landscapes of these novels are always front and center and, in some ways, steering the storytelling. In this conversation, O’Neill and Obioma bring to light how a sense of place does—and doesn’t—play a part in their process, and how the settings we choose as writers relate back to our own identities. This interview is a collaboration between The Common and Writers OMI. 

DW Gibson: I’d like to begin by hearing both of you talk about that point in the writing process when place comes into focus for you. Is it at the point of origin for the story or somewhere along the journey? Chigozie, let’s start with you.

Chigozie Obioma: For The Fishermen, there are two main characters in that novel—the dad and Akure, the town. Aspects of Akure shape the lives of my other characters, the boys and the family in the novel. For instance, the river in which the boys fish, where they become baptized as the fishermen, is a river that crisscrosses the town.

In many ways, the town has a kind of a physical presence in the novel but also a symbolic or even metaphorical presence. It is in some ways a microcosm for Nigeria—whether it’s the colonial intervention in the country, how it reshapes both the society and the social-political dynamics. By the end of the novel, the town itself, at least from the perception of the boys in the novel, is completely changed and they’ve changed alongside it. So the place, itself, has an arc just as the human characters have arcs—it’s integral. I don’t know that you could, for that specific novel, take out the character of the town. It was born at the same time as the rest of the characters.

Gibson: I wonder if that arc for Akure, for the river specifically, was that part of the inspiration for the story? Or was it something that materialized once you got into the text?

Obioma: I like to say that I’m a control freak when it comes to fiction. I like to plan everything out way before I actually start any kind of writing. And so, yes, Akure was there the moment the germ of the idea came to me, which was me trying to think about what exactly can come in between brothers or siblings and destroy the bond, the natural bond, that sacred bond. 

As I started to think about it, I toyed with a lot of ideas. Should it be love? Maybe they’re all in love with the same person. I was like, “No, that has been done to the ‘Legend of the Fall.’” [Laughs.] I don’t want to dabble into the territory of cliché. At some point, I remembered the river, in fact, and I had this image of the madman, who is a central figure, a catalyst for some of the rather dark things that actually happen in the novel. The moment I had that, the novel was fully shaped in my mind. So the waters of the river were at the very inception of the novel.

Gibson: Joe, how about you? Talk about either Netherland or The Dog. In both of those books, I feel like place is essential to the story you’re telling. The idea of building a cricket stadium in New York, the post-9/11 setting, it feels like the city is front and center, and the same with Dubai in The Dog, in terms of the prominence of the globalized capitalistic world that main character is living in.

Joseph O’Neill: The thing is, I don’t wake up in the morning thinking about place and what I’m supposed to do with place. But it turns out, as you point out, that my writing depends on a strong relationship with location. The Dog was essentially inspired by the place known as Dubai. And so, for me, I have a strong relationship with these places that are unfamiliar to me. I’ve never really written about anywhere where I’m from. I’ve always liked the slightly unfamiliar encounter with place because it enables all sorts of things to happen.

I mean, there are profound questions, philosophical questions, ethical questions, and political questions having to do with the decision about where to write about. I feel that as a writer, you are given a place, you’re born somewhere or you grow up somewhere. Most writers have a kind of natural territory, which they are given. I know that Chigozie’s book, which he was describing, was situated in a town, where I think you grew up, unless I’m mistaken about that, Chigozie. So he was dealing with the kind of inheritance he had.

I was born in Ireland, but I moved all over the world as a kid and lived for the longest time in Holland as an ex-pat or foreigner. And so, I was never given that primordial nativity, which characterizes a lot of American writers, for example. I mean, American writers write without self-consciousness about America. If they write about foreign places, then they write about being abroad and being in a foreign land. I’ve never had that. For me, it’s always foreign. Everywhere I go, I’m confronted by this question of this slightly strange place. 

Gibson: That upbringing you had, that lack of a tether to any one place, experiencing growing up as a foreigner in a particular country—do you feel like having lived so many places gives you a broader purview in terms of the places you can write about? 

O’Neill: I feel all the limitations that writers always feel about anything really, and that applies to place as well. I mean, you want to be accurate as a writer. You want to be able to write from your deepest preoccupations. And so, you can’t just get up in the morning and write about anything. If I wrote about Akure, I’d have to do quite a lot of work before I would feel remotely capable of putting pen to paper. But I feel that because I’m slightly displaced or I was never placed personally, I have a slightly old-fashioned sense of the world. It’s both old-fashioned and modern. Modern in the sense that I’m a specimen of globalization, but it’s also old-fashioned in the sense that I feel a kind of interest in the world, which isn’t defined by a domestic culture. 

Beckett and Joyce are very international writers and placeless writers in many ways, even though obviously Joyce is quite interested in Dublin. I do feel a certain roaming, a freedom to roam, which of course is now being the subject of some interrogation. What is the right of the writer? Who am I to go poke my nose in somebody else’s business? But of course, the answer to that is that the real job of the writer is to poke your nose into other people’s business. It’s not just your own. You can’t just be restricted to investigating the well-known circumstances or of your own particular situation.

The “other” place is always more interesting than “here.” Often people finally turn to writing about the place where they grew up after they’ve left it, and it kind of becomes another place. And then they have to travel in their mind and in their memories to where they grew up, and then they feel able to write about it. But when you’re in the middle of a place, it’s actually quite hard to write about it.

Obioma: Yes, part of why I was able to write that novel when I wrote it. I was living in Cyprus. The climate was a little bit similar, but the actual vegetation and landscape were radically different from what I was used to. So, my vision of Akure became even sharper just by looking at the contrast, that was this desert and the Mediterranean Sea. Joe’s point is very true, at least from my perspective.

I like to think in very philosophical terms when it comes to the craft of writing, and I would relate that approach specifically to something from the Igbo cosmological belief system, where we have this drum called the udu. It’s like an earthenware vessel. If you saw it, you wouldn’t know that this is actually a drum. It is not beaten with sticks or anything. It’s a pot with a mouth, and then you bang on it and it emits this sound that you don’t really hear very well as the one beating it, but the people who are one kilometer away hear the sound sharper than you.

So, in some ways, we hear the sound of the udu better from a distance. If you’re displaced, that is when you can actually write about that place better, because you hear the sound of it clearer than those who are submerged in the place. 

Gibson: Chigozie, I wonder how you felt memory came into play. Joe referenced writing about home years later from another place and you’ve just colored that experience in for us. Memory comes into play, right? Or are there other tools? Did you make trips back or work with photography or practical tools like that? 

Obioma: Well, I don’t want to nail myself with too many darts, but I used to say that research was antagonizing to the process of writing and I would never do any research about anything because I believe that I’m a writer, and hindsight, the landscape of the imagination is what I’m supposed to be cultivating. So why revert to what is already there? Find something new. But as I’ve matured as a writer, I have seen that sometimes research can be very useful, especially in concrete terms. As Joe said, you want to be accurate as the writer. But that being said, I still think that hindsight or delayed memory is a very useful tool for me.

Let’s say I want to write about this moment. I want to document it as we speak. What I find is that the writing I produce becomes mostly informational. So I’m noticing the patterns of breaks behind Joe and you, DW, nodding your head. These are obvious things. But if I were to say, “Okay. You know what, I’m not going to write about this moment now. I’m going to just let it go and just write about it later at 10:00 PM when the moment has gone and everyone has forgotten about it.” Even if I had the memory of Einstein, I cannot accurately 100% document this moment. It’s impossible. Some things will be lost.

So, I’m forced to depend on hindsight. Whatever I am documenting, or writing down in that moment is being shaped by my imagination. It’s diluted. I like that time best because then I cannot separate what is imaginary and what is accurate recollection. I find myself remembering, “Okay, there was a butterfly passing by or some kind of insect behind Joe.” This might not be true, but it’s the kind of interesting detail that makes fiction work. And then I put that in my work and people are like, “Oh, wow, that nice detail that you had there, how did you get that?” Well, it’s because I depended on the natural tool of writers, which is hindsight. I prefer that more than consulting images or traveling to witness places.

O’Neill: I had a question for Chigozie, which is about writing about Africa or writing from the African point of view. I use Africa in a very broad sense intentionally because I’m thinking about your audience, which is international, American, and European. When you are writing about a place like Akure, which is a place very few of your readers will have ever been to, and you’re writing about a culture and a mythology or a cosmology, which belongs to that place which they won’t necessarily be familiar with, how does that affect your representation of place? And I’m just going to bring in what happened to Ireland, to take the example: when Joyce wrote Dubliners, it was seen as slightly outrageous, and Virginia Woolf got very upset about it, that he was writing about these kinds of ordinary people in this city that no one really cared about. And then he wrote about their customs and beliefs in a way that made it very easy for the writers who followed him from Ireland to write about Ireland. If I want to write about Ireland, and I write about a priest or something in Ireland, everyone has already read that story somewhere. They kind of know where I’m at.

Now, you do have precedent. There are obviously Nigerian writers who preceded you in the international reader sphere, but nonetheless, it’s still a challenge, I would’ve thought, that you have to bear your audience in mind. Does it play a part in your thinking? How do you manage all that?

Obioma: Well, that’s a good question. Let me say, first of all, that Akure has never appeared in fiction as far as I know. So, it’s a challenge, definitely. For this question, my answer would be two-faced. The first would be to say that these stories that I want to tell, there’s often a reason for them. As I said before, I tend to write fiction that I believe is conceptual in a way, and they are to some extent philosophical. So the madman in The Fisherman is an actual character who is crazy. He walks about naked. He eats garbage. But the term “madman” and the way in which it came to me was more of a metaphorical expression.

For instance, if we’re having this event and somebody barges in, an intruder who is not welcomed, the instinctive response in Nigeria amongst the Igbo people is to be wary. In the Igbo tradition, a person who is not welcomed is mad. So the response will be, “Madman, get out of here.” 

If you think of this entity that has its own culture and society and everything, and then one day someone comes and says, “You know what, I am going to decide how you would be from here on,” that is a madman. What the colonial imperialists did, that is the vision of a madman. They decided, “You guys would become Nigeria, and you will be one country, and you will have so and so language and all of these things.” So that was the way I was seeing it.

In that sense, I didn’t really care about whether or not this place is obscure or whether it would be recognized because it was very useful for the soul of the project that I was working on. And I was ready to accept any kind of penalties for that. 

The Fishermen was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won a string of awards. So people often don’t believe this when I say this, but this novel could not find a publisher in the U.S. The first time that we tried to shop it, it was roundly rejected. All of them would tell me, “Oh, we think the language is amazing, but there’s no market for it in the U.S.” In the novel, there is a piece about the boys aspiring to leave Akure for Canada. One of the publishers was like, “Okay. Well, I would probably buy the book if you will at least make them move at some point to the U.S—like Texas—so that there’s that recognition.” I was like, “No, I’m not doing that.” 

The second thing about the answer is that I don’t think about audience and representation very much, honestly. I know that it’s a dominant school of thought, especially with Africans in the diaspora who believe that you should be very conscious of white people and Westerners reading your work. I don’t think about it. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t wake up and think, “Oh, how will somebody who lives in New York receive my work, or should I italicize? Should I make it more difficult for white people to read my work or not?” No, I’m not interested in those things. Sometimes if I need to italicize Igbo words, okay, let me do it because I feel like it’s germane to what I’m doing, not because of some flimsy political thing. I don’t really care whether a white conservative in Alabama thinks that my novel is accessible to them. 

Gibson: Joe, that makes me think about The Dog. You’re obviously not from Dubai. This isn’t a place that you have any kind of extended experience with, but you’re also by the same token not trying to do anything akin to what Chigozie just described with Akure, with this deep interior experience. You’re not trying to convey to the reader what the inner working of the government is like, or interior culture, so to speak. You’re telling the story of a foreigner who’s been supplanted into that setting. So, what you’re trying to do with the place often is a very important dynamic as well, no?

O’Neill: Yes. One of the reasons I could write about Dubai is that there is no there, there. I mean, there’s just nothing there. Even the local Dubaians really just turned up. The Emirati national costume that they all wear was just invented as a marketing thing about 20 years ago. So the country has just completely been invented about 15 years ago. I think about 70% of the population are foreigners who work there and are not allowed to acquire citizenship no matter how long they live there or how many children they have there. So, the whole identity and profundity that we associate with a place is kind of very radically different in Dubai.

On top of that, of course, there is the natural point of view of the visitor. My character is always from that point of view. Whatever my character sees, whether it’s accurate or not is kind of okay because he’s a visitor. That’s the trick of having that particular character. He could be wrong about something, he could be right about something—who knows? It’s just this character. I mean, if you go to Dubai and you speak to someone who’s lived there for a number of years and they talk to you about the place, who knows if they’re accurate or not?

That same thing applies to natives. If I go to a place where I said, “Hi. You and your family have lived here for 25 generations. What’s this place like?” And that person begins to explain this place, who knows if they’re right or not? If I read a book about Akure and learned about Akure, I’m not going to go to Akure and say, “Oh, actually, hold on a second. This feels completely different. He hasn’t got it right. I’m throwing this novel out.” No, the novel is “what is the place.”

So the novel inaugurated its own location, and it’s sort of parasitic on whatever kind of geographic and cultural kind of materials it uses. Obviously, you want to be accurate in a deep artistic sense, but that’s not the same as being a kind of National Geographic type, who will come back with valuable information about a country you’ve never been to with photographs and reports. That’s not really what we’re up to. It’s quite amusing actually, for people who say to Chigozie, “Well, this is how you should be writing your novels.” Whoever’s saying that doesn’t even understand the form. They don’t understand what he’s doing. 

I’m actually interested in this anecdote about the publisher who suggested that Chigozie move the action to Texas—Texas of all places. It would have to be a highly symbolic kind of ultra-American, hyper-American environment. I wonder, and I’m going to throw this at you a bit, DW, if I may, as a writer of place yourself actually, about the American sense of place. American culture is so dominant, America itself is so dominant. How does an American writer, whether non-fiction, reportage, or fiction, how does an American writer think about their location on the planet? How does that even begin to work?

Gibson: One would have to dial down on that question even more precisely in terms of what kind of American are we talking about. Are we talking about a white Christian-raised guy like me or someone from a very different background? I think that that’s part of answering the question. The best thing that any American writer can do, but particularly I would say white American writers, is to understand that it’s never about a singular pursuit of place, right? This is what you were touching on, Joe. There’s no one version of any given town or of any given city or place.

People are constantly pontificating about, “Oh, a great New York novel,” or that kind of idea, and it’s so misguided. There are so many iterations of New York. I think it’s very important to understand what your perspective is, whether it’s a character you’re developing or reportage that you’re doing, what the perspective is, what the goal is, and what version of that place you’re trying to tap into. From my perspective, from a nonfiction perspective, I’m trying to put it as faithfully on the page as possible, and that comes from observation, but maybe more so from conversation, conversation with people that represent and know the version of the place that you’re trying to tap into. But I think the fundamental issue is knowing that there are various versions of every place.

One other thought is—and this is a vulnerable comment on my part, showing some growth on my part—I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Hawaii Islands more recently in my life. The conversation about place comes up a lot in the islands because it’s a very complicated dynamic. In the American context, it’s the only place that was overthrown by capitalistic powers first and then state powers, right? So you had capitalistic barons here who overthrew the independent state, and then eventually got the U.S. government to give its blessing. 

That dynamic is alive today, and there’s a big sovereignty movement. There are decals on cars that say, “Defend Aloha, defend Hawaii,” or “Do not mistake Aloha for weakness.” So there are really interesting dynamics here, and they’re always in front of me, omnipresent, especially when I teach at the university. At one point I thought to myself, I feel guilty for being here. I don’t even know that I should be here as who I am. And then the real light bulb went off: that’s the dynamic across all of North America! I was just not cognizant of it as I was growing up in Southern California. I was not aware of that dynamic in an everyday way as I was living in New York City.

So I think there’s a way to confront who you are and the angle you’re bringing to the work you do. And then, again, I would couch it in nonfiction terms for me diving as deeply as I can into a specific version of a place, and knowing that version that I’m trying to identify as precisely as I can. 

Chigozie, one thing that occurs to me is that with An Orchestra of Minorities, you didn’t anchor it to just one place. Maybe talk about that and how you were inspired to explore more places in that story.

Obioma: I think that I will probably always write about spaces that are not just liminal, but are more metaphysical places. So there are aspects of that in The Fishermen, but more so in An Orchestra of Minorities. You have this spirit narrating the story, and the spirit itself is anchored in an extra-ordinary, extra-realist space. 

That’s more because I’m thinking of concepts when I’m writing. I’m thinking, “Okay. I have to structure this story around a particular concept.” And that concept informs the structure of the story, whether it’s a boy who can understand the world by associations with animals and therefore likens everything to animals, or a spirit who has this testimonial voice, and it’s relating a whole life to a jury. I think that even Joe does something like that. I’m thinking of the stream of consciousness type narration in Netherland and how dense that process is in some ways because I think from my reading, it mimics the denseness of New York and the experience itself. Compare that, for instance, to the prose that you find in The Road by Cormac McCarthy, and think of the punctuation or chastity, as I like to call it, this very spare use of punctuation and even language itself mimics the distinct depopulated and scarred place.

So, some of the looping narration in An Orchestra of Minorities is because I’m trying to mimic this traveling, this constantly shifting presence of who’s telling the story. Because of that, the story is not necessarily linear. It’s just cycling and cycling and cycling until the end. 

Gibson: That story you told us, Chigozie, about the editor who wanted some tether to Texas, that keeps bouncing around in my head in terms of market-driven forces on the creative process. Publishing is always trying to find familiarity for the reader. I think that’s what the editor was trying to do there. Joe, I have to imagine that perhaps an editor or two might have balked at the idea of cricket for an American audience, right? 

O’Neill: They did. I think they all did, everybody except for one publisher. But if I can criticize Chigozie’s writing, it’s that he’s failed to observe the golden rule of place, which is to write about New York. He didn’t write about New York. [Laughs.] I wrote a book about New York, right? Everyone was like, “This is a great book. It’s great work.” And then I wrote another book about Dubai, which I felt was even better, and they were like, “Who cares? It’s not about New York. Where are the pizzas?” Whenever I have a young writer who says, “Any advice?” And I always say, “Yes, write about New York.” [Laughs.] In fact, I have a Nigerian writer friend who’s written about New York and with great success.

Obioma: Is that Uwem Akpan?

O’Neill: I’m thinking about Teju Cole.

Obioma: Okay, Okay. 

O’Neill: It’s bulletproof. I think your editor was onto something. I think that The Fisherman was a very successful and wonderful novel. Just imagine if you just set it in New York, it would be even bigger. 

Obioma: That was because all the critics lived there. 

O’Neill: For years, I used to think, “Well, Netherland must have been a well-written book because it was very successful.” Then I realized the horrible feeling, the reason it was so successful—

Obioma: —No, it was a great book—

O’Neill: — is because it was set in New York. [Laughs.]

Gibson: I think there’s this fundamental dynamic, again, talking about market forces on a creative enterprise, where there’s an impulse to always want to have a book brought to the reader as opposed to taking the reader somewhere. This is the divide between international writers and writers who are really willing to just be interior in one way or another and insist that readers come to them. I think about India. There have been a lot of writers that have Indian origins, that have been international writers for decades. But I think more recently we’ve seen writers like Perumal Murugan, who is very much steeped in a place like Tamil Nadu and insisting that readers come to him, come to him in Tamil Nadu and find the place. I think that’s something that requires fortitude on the part of writers. 

O’Neill: Also, I think the reception also depends on the culture. I mean, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Booker Prize is the cultural institution that has been receptive to Chigozie’s work, because the Booker Prize has this long post-colonial history. There were so many writers from around the world that I would never have read without the Booker Prize and its shortlist and its long-list and all the rest of it, which is fantastically interesting.

Obioma: There was a discovery I made two years after my first novel was published. I had the privilege of traveling to a number of countries to promote it and I realized something. When I was in Western Europe, specifically Britain and France, in Germany, the journalists’ questions were very different from when I went to Spain, for instance, or the U.S.

In Germany and France, they were more interested in the philosophical aspects of the novel. “Oh, wow. That’s interesting, this narrator, the way this is happening and all of that.” In Britain, they were more interested in—perhaps because of the post-colonial connection—”What are you doing on a craft level, the language or place and all of that?” Then Southern Europe, the politics of the novel: “What do you think about immigration?” Because at that time, they’re receiving this influx of migrants. If I had a conference with journalists, not a single person asked me about any of the characters or plot in the novel, it was just I was like a politician speaking about Africa.

And then you come to the U.S., the interest wanes. “As a Black writer, what are you saying about race or being an African living in the U.S.?” Nobody is interested in the fact that you’ve written a novel about Akure that has nothing to do with the U.S. or race. And then you go to Nigeria, “How are you representing Nigeria to the international place, or how authentic is the novel? Why did you write that there are people in Akure who are only driving bicycles when they actually have limousines and stuff?”

That is what they’re interested in, representation. And then they are attacking you about italicization and all of this. So different places have their own way, their own approach, and perspective about your work, and that was very fascinating to me. 

Gibson: I love that point, Chigozie. I think it’s calibrating in terms of how much is in your control as a writer. I think it’s a good reminder that art is never the picture on the canvas. It’s never the words between the covers. Art is always a verb. It’s the thing that happens between the person and the canvas as they look at it, and between the reader and the book as they read it. And so, it’s always going to be morphing according to who’s receiving the painting, the music, the book, and that’s where the art happens, right?

Obioma: Yes.

Gibson: How about place in a smaller sense, of a river, as you alluded to earlier, Chigozie, or a kitchen or a sports field? Are these places somehow more dense with meanings and references? How are they in dialogue with the larger place?

O’Neill: I do feel like the advantage of writing from a place, even if you’re not necessarily exploring that particular place, is that there’s an automatic political resonance to what you’re doing. You don’t even have to try. If The Fishermen was set in some fictitious place in Nigeria, which you couldn’t identify on the map and it didn’t really belong to any particular ethnic group in Nigeria or kingdom, then you’d be like, “Great,” but it would lose a dimension. It would definitely lose a dimension and actually quite a necessary dimension if you’re being slightly fanciful as well. 

Obioma: I often say this to my students and some of my friends: if you want to maybe wax poetic, as Joe does in Netherland, you have to be intentional about the place that you’re choosing to set your story in. So if you were to look at the center of campus—I’m at my office—there really isn’t anything there. There’s nothing that would be exciting enough for you as a writer because this is just like a bench and some nice, glassy building.

But if you were to take that same story and place it in the aftermath of a hurricane, or some kind of disaster, already by virtue of choosing a setting or a place, you have so much to work with in terms of poetic language. This is the trick with Cormac McCarthy. He sets his novels in deserts and plains, where there are men and elements of forest and bonds and sea and places. So by the time you take one or two steps, you are describing the ground as dark with ashes. Of course, you will wax poetic, even if you were the laziest, untalented writer. So, sometimes it just has to do with being intentional about what you want to do, and therefore you think about the place.

O’Neill: You’re talking about descriptive writing—

Obioma: Yes, descriptive writing.

O’Neill: There’s nothing like describing a place to get the old juices running. You’re like, “Excellent. I get to describe this now.” Actually, not many writers can do it. A lot of people struggle with description, and then they avoid it. And so, you have this emphasis on interiority, which avoids place. Especially in the kind of conversational, psychological novel, which is so typical of cultural novel, which is so typical of America today, where we’re just having lots of dialogue and chitchats and people discussing the pros and cons of Pepsi. 

I mean, I love those novels from the 1950s and ’40s, where they start off with a confident description of the valley. “It was on this valley.” I think, “Who can do that anymore?” It’s the real trick to quickly put the setting in and describe and then zoom in. And then there are your characters in this place, and then you are done. And then from time to time, there’s a bougainvillea or cactus or whatever it is just to remind you, but the work of the setting has already been done. I suspect that now, this might be interrogated as slightly old-fashioned, but actually, it’s very hard to do and it’s a lot of fun to read somebody who can pull off that kind of place writing.

 

 

DW Gibson is most recently the author of 14 Miles: Building the Border Wall. His previous books include the awarding-winning The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the Twenty-First Century and Not Working: People Talk About Losing a Job and Finding Their Way in Today’s Changing Economy. His work has also appeared in Harper’sThe Atlantic, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. Gibson serves as director of Art Omi: Writers in Ghent, New York, and he co-founded Sangam House, a writers’ residency in India, along with Arshia Sattar.

Chigozie Obioma was born in Akure, Nigeria. His two novels, The Fishermen (2015) and An Orchestra of Minorities (2019) were shortlisted for The Booker Prize. They have won awards including the inaugural FT/Oppenheimer Award for Fiction, the NAACP Image Award, and the LA Times Book Prize, and have been nominated for many others. His books have been translated into more than 29 languages. The Fishermen was adapted into an award-winning stage play. He was named one of Foreign Policy’s 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2015. He is the James E. Ryan Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and divides his time between the US and Nigeria.  

Joseph O’Neills books include Netherland, which received the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and The Dog, which was longlisted for the Booker Prize. He teaches at Bard College.

Art is Always a Verb: An Interview with Joseph O’Neill & Chigozie Obioma

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Panics book cover

The Headless Man

BARBARA MOLINARD
The woman took a seat on the bench. She was wearing a little black dress and a coat that was also black, brightened up with a pale blue scarf around her neck. Long blond hair framed her rather beautiful face, which her eyes, drowned in dream, bestowed with a unique absence.

Mónica Gomery

Poetry as Homeland: An Interview with Mónica Gomery

MÓNICA GOMERY
I’m a person who’s generally in love with the world, but it’s a complicated love, best embodied by the Hebrew word yirah, meaning both awe and fear. The two work in tandem—it’s the feeling of being filled to the brim with both wonder and heartbreak.