Chibundu Onuzo's Sankofa is shortlisted for the 2022 Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize.
Anna is at a stage of her life when she's beginning to wonder who she really is. She has separated from her husband, her daughter is all grown up, and her mother - the only parent who raised her - is dead.
Searching through her mother's belongings, she finds clues about the West African father she never knew. Through reading his student diary, chronicling his involvement in radical politics in 1970s London, she discovers that he eventually became the president (some would say the dictator) of a small nation in West Africa - and he is still alive. She decides to track him down and so begins a funny, painful, fascinating journey, and an exploration of race, identity and what we pass on to our children.
About the Author:
Chibundu Onuzo was born in Lagos, Nigeria. Her life so far spans two military dictatorships, one internet revolution, two boarding schools, five grandmothers and a first book deal signed at nineteen. Chibundu's first novel, The Spider King's Daughter, was published by Faber in 2012 and was the winner of a Betty Trask Award, shorted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and the Commonwealth Book Prize and longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize and Etisalat Literature Prize. Her second novel, Welcome to Lagos, was published by Faber in 2017 and shortlisted for the RSL Encore Award. In 2018 Chibundu was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, as part of its "40 Under 40" initiative.
She contributes regularly to the Guardian, has done a talk for Tedx and her autobiographical show 1991, featuring narrative, music, song and dance, premiered in a sell-out show at Southbank Centre's London Literature Festival in 2018. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @chibunduonuzo.
WNSF: What does adventure writing mean to you? Would you have considered yourself an adventure writer before being shortlisted for the Prize?
Chibundu: Adventure writing is writing that takes you on a journey of discovery. It’s not so much a storyline as the feeling you get when you’re reading a book. I wouldn’t have considered myself an adventure writer before I was shortlisted for the prize but Anna [my main character] does go on a journey of discovery and so my book certainly fits my definition.
WNSF: Are there any particular books or authors which have made a lasting impact on you?
Chibundu: C.S Lewis with his fiction and non-fiction. I read the Chronicles of Narnia several times as a child. Sefi Atta and her novel, Everything Good Will Come. She writes brilliantly about Lagos.
WNSF: Can you tell us about any adventurous experiences in your life? Have they influenced you as a writer or your writing?
Chibundu: I took part in the Duke of Edinburgh Silver Scheme when I was a teenager. It was more of a misadventure than an adventure. Everything that could go wrong on a camping trip went wrong. It rained, we got lost, and so on. It made me realise that I better choose a career that works indoors. It doesn’t get more indoorsy than being a writer.
WNSF: Sankofa is partially historical fiction, why did you choose to write about this time?
Chibundu: I did a PhD on a group called the West African Students’ Union. It was based in Camden Town from 1925-1970. A lot of its members went on to do great things politically in West Africa. I was fascinated by this time in their lives when they were poor students dreaming grandiose dreams. Anna’s father, Francis Aggrey, is inspired by the stories I came across when I was researching my thesis.
WNSF: What would you consider the upsides, and the downsides, are to being an author?
Chibundu: I love being able to set my schedule. I wake up every day and decide what I’m going to write. However, it took me a few years to actually work out a reasonable schedule and stick to it. Also, being a full-time writer can be financially precarious. Being able to manage your money and cash flow is as important as the actual writing itself.