Six Months Post Publication!

Six months have passed since Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions was published in the US! I can’t believe it. It’s been a wonderful experience and I’m grateful to have a publisher (Amistad) and editor (Patrik Henry Bass) that took a chance on a collection of linked stories from a Nigerian author whose writing credentials are mostly articles for biomedical informatics journals. 

I’ve now done readings, book clubs, and other events and it has been amazing to meet people who really connect with the characters that were tucked away in my head for the better part of 15 years!  Some of the highlights of the past six months include getting a five star Goodreads review from Roxane Gay (I was screaming so loud my husband checked in to see whether a murderer had somehow broken into our home) and being selected for her Audacious Book Club; the book launch at Skylight Books in Los Angeles; appearing on Karen Hunter’s Sirius radio show; and a Library Foundation of Los Angeles and Zocalo event on how LA inspires first time novelists.

I teach a graduate biomedical informatics course in Los Angeles every fall, so my publisher knew I wouldn’t be able to do many events outside California because I was already teaching in person at launch time. I was stunned by how many online book clubs, podcasts, and other virtual opportunities I ended up being able to do.

Some of the most common questions I received from different events were about the inspiration for some of my stories, two in particular: the one set in 1897 and the one set in 2050, which people either seem to love or hate. The 2050 story (messengerRNA) was darker than most of the others because I wrote it in 2018 when I was worried about my future in the US. The 1897 story (Fodo’s Better Half) was inspired by the story of my grandmother’s older sister. She married a rich older woman who was unable to have a child, at a time when this was considered a perfectly normal part of Western Igbo culture. Colonization and Christianity changed attitudes and I wanted to explore what it must have meant to watch as your culture and society changed and having to deal with a new kind of dystopian reality. I’ve been asked whether I have a favorite character from the book and I do: Adaoma was my favorite character to write because it was wonderful to do the research and then to imagine what it was like for an Igbo woman to be at the top of her game in the early 1900s.  As a side note, it also allowed me to explore the phenomenon of Africans at the time naming their children Christian names that most people in a village or town could not pronounce – so a name like Veronica morphed into Fodonika or Fodo. In fact, one of my grandmothers was named Eunice, which everyone pronounced You-Nicey.

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read my linked short story collection and to write reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, StoryGraph, and beyond. I really appreciate you all!

Where It All Began

I work full time as a biomedical informatics professor. This means that I spend most of my time writing (and rewriting and resubmitting) NIH grants that examine the role that computational methods can play in reducing US health disparities, carrying out the research when a grant (almost miraculously) gets funded, publishing research papers, and teaching graduate students.

I started writing short stories as a researcher and junior faculty member in Boston because, frankly, the stories wouldn’t leave me alone. It was almost like they were haunting me, showing up in my dreams, asking, no begging, to be told. I was worried back then about whether any of my fellow biomedical informaticians would take me seriously if they knew that I loved writing fiction as much as I loved informatics. A lot of the early career advice I got was focused on getting grants and publications and promotions, attending conferences, networking (I’m really bad at that), finding new research collaborators to get more grants and publications and promotions. In some ways, I think writing fiction saved me. The desire to write followed me from Boston to Los Angeles.

So you might wonder, When do you find the time to write fiction? Early mornings before I leave for work and on weekends. Sometimes I’d take an evening writing workshop just to stay on track: at Grub Street, Boston and Writing Workshops LA, I found great writing instructors and likeminded writers, professionals with serious jobs who had a love of books, of reading and writing. It hasn’t been easy – it took almost fifteen years for me to start and finish Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions (from the first drafts to finding an agent who found me a publisher), but I regret nothing.

When I decided that I would take writing fiction seriously, I needed a different environment to work in, one that inspired me in a unique way. The Boston Public Library Copley Square’s Reading Room was just that environment. It was beautiful, so awe-inspiring that I couldn’t not write. The words for the initial drafts of many of the stories in Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions flowed out into my laptop there. I remember how ecstatic I’d feel, rolling my laptop briefcase to the nearest T Station on my way home to my condo in Brookline after a few hours of pouring words out. Then the next day, I’d go back to the library and do it again. This was my life for almost four years.

I left Boston for Los Angeles in 2007 and I hadn’t been back there in fifteen years! This summer, I decided to show my husband, who I met in Los Angeles, my old stomping grounds and the place where the book began. I hope you enjoy the pictures of the Copley Library and I hope it’s there for many others for years and years to come!