22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Akwaeke Emezi

Portrait Akwaeke Emezi
© Hartwig Klappert

Akwaeke Emezi, who is of half-Igbo, half-Tamil descent, was born in 1987 in Umuahia, the capital of the southern Nigerian state of Abia, and grew up in Aba, also in Abia. Emezi studied international politics and nonprofit management at New York University from 2010 to 2012. From 2014 to 2016 Emezi took part in a creative writing course at Syracuse University in New York.

Emezi’s short prose work was first published in magazines such as »Specter Magazine«, »Sable Literary Magazine« and »Wasafiri Magazine«. The text »Who Will Claim You?« (2015), which is about origins, was included in the »Best Culture Writing of 2015« list by »The Fader« magazine. »Who Is Like God« on »Granta Online« (2017) won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa. In 2018, Emezi’s first novel, »Freshwater«, was published. At the center of the story is Ada, a Nigerian woman who comes into the world as an »ogbanje«, an evil spirit who cleaves a person into multiple personalities. Ada worries her parents from childhood on due to her instability and tendency toward violent rages. Her real problem becomes clear when she moves to the USA for college and falls into an identity crisis after a traumatic experience. The voices in her head entice her to sabotage and destroy herself through unprotected sex, indulging in alcohol, practicing self-mutilation, and even attempting suicide. Emezi answers the inquiry by psychologists into the reasons for this kind of self-destruction with Igbo spirituality as an explanatory model for decoding human madness. The novel lives from the tension between claiming a single identity and the freedom and variability of multiple personalities. »I am a village full of faces and a compound full of bones, translucent thousands«, says the author. Based on personal experience and with stylistic elegance and poetic, unsettling imagery, in »Freshwater« Emezi explores a type of mental confusion that plagues the protagonist into adulthood and poses questions about the secrets of existence and the self. The result is the postulation that one must ultimately live with one’s demons without surrendering oneself to them, and that one must – in a playful way – situate oneself along the borders between genders, between life and death, and between God and individual.

Emezi’s first young adult novel »PET« is expected to appear in 2019. Emezi also makes experimental short films; »UDUDEAGU« received the audience award at the 2014 BlackStar Film Festival.