Commonwealth Winner, Tricia Nwaubani, Reads For Abuja Writers

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The June 26, 2010 edition of the Abuja Writers’ Forum’s (AWF) Guest Writer Session will feature the winner of the 2010 Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Book (Africa), Tricia Ada Nwaubani.

Born in Enugu, Nigeria, Nwaubani earned her very first income from winning a writing competition at the age of 13. As a teenager, she secretly dreamed of becoming a CIA or KGB agent. She studied Psychology at the University of Ibadan. Her essays and short stories have been published by the New York Times, the UK Guardian, the UK Sunday Express, African Writing, and others. She was also the acting editor of élan, the fashion and style magazine of Nigeria ’s revolutionary NEXT newspapers. 

I Do Not Come to You by Chance, her debut novel, explores the perilous world of Nigerian 419 scams from a humorous perspective. She wrote it in Nigeria but was able to work with an agent overseas and eventually got a foreign publisher interested in the work In a recent interview she explained the entire process thus: "At present, I’m the only Nigerian in decades (and one of the very few in Africa) to have a novel published internationally while still living in my home country. Most of what I learned about getting an agent and having my novel published internationally was from researching online. Few people here seemed to have the slightest idea. When I meet home-based writers and ask why they don’t have any publishers outside Nigeria, it often turns out that they never even explored the possibilities. I constantly have to explain to them about agents, and about the goings-on between the period of signing a book deal and when the book hits the stands. To many here, the process sounds like Hindustani because they are so used to the Nigerian way of finishing your writing today, sending to the printers tomorrow, and having your novel ready the day after."

The book has earned positive reviews globally. A review in the Washington Post notes that as "As the scams increase in scale and audacity, the novel begins to accomplish something more than simply poking fun at the lust and rapacity that make a small but lucrative fraction of Westerners susceptible to such scams. Significantly, the names of Nwaubani's suckers are not Smith and Jones but rather Rumsfeld, Albright, Condoleezza and Letterman; they are little people with big people's names and emotional resonance. The reader is thus invited to see the whole fraught relationship between Africa and the West in the microcosm of these deceptively simple e-mails from Nigeria. There is a pulsating anger underneath all the tricks and the levity. When challenged regarding the immorality of ripping off unsuspecting Westerners, Nwaubani's characters explicitly cite slavery and the Western exploitation of the Niger Delta's oil wealth as justification; they're merely repatriating capital that they feel was taken from them unjustly.

"The picture is further complicated by the charitable use to which a great deal of the embezzled money is put in the novel: building schools, paving roads and funding orphanages. "No matter what the media proclaimed," says Kingsley, "we were not villains, and the good people of Eastern Nigeria knew it." Nwaubani's subversive skill lies in telling us a familiar story from an unfamiliar angle. By making Robin Hood heroes of the vilified perpetrators of e-mail scams, she allows us to enjoy watching a potbellied pervert from Utah pay an African village kid's school fees. But Nwaubani does not ignore the moral difficulties of this arrangement, and indeed the emotional propulsion of the novel comes from Kingsley's own growing disgust at what he is becoming. This is not a flawless novel -- it is an original and heartfelt debut that occasionally offends against pacing and plausibility -- but its flaws are more than compensated for by Nwaubani's storytelling skill and the sharp pair of eyes she lends us. Western audiences have grown up with films such as "The Sting" and "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels," in which scammers are charming and their victims covetous and vile. In Western pop culture, when white folks go on the scam, it's a comedy -- or, if they do it on a truly grand scale, it's a taxpayer bailout -- yet when Africans go scamming, it's a crime. One of Nwaubani's many fine achievements in publishing her timely novel here is to give Westerners credit for beginning to move on from that. I hope we can be trusted to handle a transaction of this magnitude."

The book was also a finalist for the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa 2010, and was named by the Washington Post as one of the Best Books of 2009. The Guest Writer Session holds by 4pm at Pen and Pages Bookstores, Adetokunbo Ademola Street, (near Mikano Generators), Wuse II, Abuja, and is a regular feature for members of the public and the diplomatic community.

The Abuja Writers’ Forum (AWF) has created and hosted the Guest Writer Session consistently since June 2008 as a platform for promoting upcoming and established writers. Alongside the reading there is a medley of live music, performance poetry and mini visual arts exhibition. Guest Writers from Nigeria, USA and Canada have been featured.