56 Years of Nigerian Literature: Nuzo Onoh

by - 23:52

Up next in my celebration of Nigerian women writers is the 'Queen of African Horror', Nuzo Onoh, whose passion as a writer has been to re-define the term 'African Horror'.

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With an annual publishing date of June 28, Onoh has published three books in the last three years: her debut collection The Reluctant Dead, a collection of three novellas Unhallowed Graves and her most recent novel The Sleepless.

Although Onoh started writing at a young age, as she explains in an interview with Starbust magazine, it was not until she was almost fifty that she finally felt she had 'a sense of freedom [to] do what [she] wanted to do'. What did Onoh do? Well, she went back to Warwick University (where she also has a law degree from) to do a Masters in Creative Writing. 

Loving 'everything to do with ghosts', being able to share stories about her own culture and having people understanding it and with Stephen King being an 'all-time hero', Onoh went down the route of the horror genre. In an interview on Africanwriter.com, she also gives credit to not taking on this journey when she was younger: 

This is definitely the right time! ... when I was younger, I had no idea what genre I wanted to write in. I wouldn't have realised that African horror is a brand that is just as exciting and relevant as horror from other parts of the world ... I wouldn't have marketed myself in this way or realised there was an audience for my stories.

Onoh writes 'mainly about Igbo ghost stories', and as mentioned earlier, her aim is to re-define the term 'African Horror'. This is something she sees as a horror sub-genre and hopes will be as 'recognised and enjoyed as other regional horror sub-genres'. In this interview with Short Story Day Africa (SSDA), Onoh notes: 

I've been championing the term as a bona-fide sub-genre, just like Scandinavian, Korean, Japanese horror etc., rather than a negative condition of the continent as mostly portrayed by the popular media ... My books ... have introduced this hitherto unknown genre into mainstream horror literary genre. 
Onoh's work also has similarities with the traditional Japanese Ghost tales (Kaidan, which means supernatural tales), which she explains in more detail in the same interview with SSDA: 

Kaidan stories are ... old-times Japanese ghost stories or oral traditional folklore, just like African horror stories. They are local stories, set in a particular village/region revealing local customs and beliefs. Based on Buddhist philosophy, there is a strong moral element to Kaidan stories. Karma plays an important role, with ghostly vengeance for wrong-doings featuring frequently in tales. This is also quite similar to African ghost stories and each single one of my stories portrays the supernatural consequences of bad actions or omissions by numerous characters ... both the Kaidan and the Igbo/African traditions see a continuous link between life and death, with the dead playing an active part in the lives of the living through hauntings, possession or reincarnation. From these, one can see that there is a strong theme of death, the afterlife and supernatural revenge common to both the Igbo/African beliefs and Japanese Kaidan stories. 
But what really is African Horror, you ask? Well, here's a 10-point guide courtesy of Nuzo Onoh published on The Maze of Twisty Passages to help you understand. Some of which includes:

1. ... African Horror is a literary genre in its own right, a sub-genre of horror that has existed for centuries, albeit without a formal title ... 
2. African Horror encompassed several horror sub-genres like supernatural horror, psychological horror, demonic/occultic horror, sci-fi horror ... slasher/gore/splatter horror and paranormal romance to mention a few ...  
6. Amos Tutuola, the famous author of 'The Palm-wine Drinkard' and 'My Life in the Bush of Ghosts' is the father of African Horror. 
9. African Horror stories are not Folktales, contrary to popular conception. These days, modern African Horror is written in prose and style similar to mainstream horror, which readers from all over the globe can relate to.

Onoh's writing has been described as 'compelling', as 'very super natural' and 'with plenty of creepiness and plenty of horror', and as 'enchanting'. Find out more about Nuzo Onoh on her website and here's  Onoh on BBC Focus on Africa, talking about The Sleepless and on the BBC's World Service 'The Fifth Floor' talking about The Reluctant Dead. 

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