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Chibundu Onuzo’s characters show a powerful hope in humanity

Social pressures are a recurring theme for author Chibundu Onuzo; unsurprising, you might say, considering she was the youngest female author to be signed by Faber & Faber, aged 19. That debut novel, The Spider King’s Daughter, was published two years later, and went on to win a Betty Trask Award.

Chibundu has described the experience as overwhelming, making her follow-up that much harder to write. Nonetheless, the ensemble novel Welcome to Lagos gathered critical acclaim, drawing on her childhood years in Nigeria while managing to show a nuanced, challenging, entertaining and hilarious range of human experience.

Faith is a notable feature of Welcome to Lagos, but so is injustice, inequality, and the social pressures that meet successful young women. “[Lagos] is not a place you can romanticise,” Chibundu has said, but one of the most intriguing aspects of the novel is an optimism about human nature, and our ability to better ourselves. Its Afrocentrism and the roundedness of her characters has put her at the forefront of a movement towards decolonising our literary scene, breaking old stereotypes and re-presenting the Nigerian diaspora in their full, human complexity.

Ironically, Chibundu was raised on British classics – eg. Great Expectations, Pride & Prejudice etc – and only read Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart after moving to an English boarding school at 14. “When I meet other African writers now we talk about sharing this feeling that our lives were provincial and the white experience was universal,” she says. “We felt that the world was happening elsewhere.” If the next generations of young authors feel differently, it will be thanks to the likes of Chibundu Onuzo.

Don’t miss Chibundo Onuzo in our brand new ‘Spotlight On..’ series in 2021 – with a live talk and Q&A discussing her journey and practice. Get tickets here!

Chibundu is great to follow on Instagram, too.