Okwudili Nebeolisa’s works have appeared in Threepenny Review and anthologies from Commonwealth Writers, and have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by The _Cincinnati Review, Salamander Magazine, and Beloit Poetry Journal. His works have been shortlisted for the Gerald Kraak Award, The Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poetry, and the Tom Howard/John H Reid Fiction and Essay Contest Award. He is currently in the United States of America (USA) for the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Among other issues, he tells AWAAL GATA how he got there
How do you feel about the height you have gained literarily at the moment?
Honestly, I wouldn’t know what to say. I feel largely lucky that somehow the years of hard work have somehow narrowed into a level where I can finally say that maybe there is light ahead. So much about writing can be likened to be in the dark. You really can’t tell if the hard work is going to pay off someday. You just keep putting in the work with the hope that it will in the future turns great.
How did you feel when you got selected for the Iowa Writers’ Workshop? Did you expect it?
I felt elated. I had missed the call from the workshop but, already, TrueCaller told me the caller was in Iowa. Honestly, I anticipated the call. A magazine editor who also applied to programs, who was also a member on Facebook for a group of people applying to writing programs, had said that he got a call from the head of poetry at the program. When I checked my phone, I saw the missed call. I was jumping and jumping even though I wasn’t sure if it was from the school or not. It was quite an experience.
How many years did you spend applying before the triumph?
I actually applied in 2017 for 2018 session, but didn’t get in. Because it was too stressful a process for me, I decided to skip a whole year and then applied in 2019 for 2020 session and finally got into the Iowa Writers Workshop and was wait-listed with two others. So I only applied for two circles.
What do you want to work on at the workshop?
An MFA [Master of Fine Arts] gives one ample time to work on a manuscript, so I hope to use the time to work on so many things: a novel, a short story collection and a poetry collection, since I work on all these genres and subgenres.
How has your relationship been with other writers there?
School hasn’t started yet but it has been congenial for now for the ones I have met. They have been really helpful, to say the least.
As this is your first time in America, has it been up to the country you have been imagining?
Yes, in so many ways. Things are very efficient here. From the electricity supply to the water supply to the traffic to the malls. But then again, Iowa City is a very quiet town. Everything here seems to be related to the university. It is a cool place to live in, especially for someone like me who likes quiet places.
How do you want the workshop, the journey to (re)shape your writing?
I don’t think I want it to reshape my writing. That is becauseh the competition is so stiff nowadays to get into very good writing programs that offer everyone full scholarships and even living stipends. Almost everyone who gets in is competent. I don’t think many who get in do so with the hope that their writing will be transformed. I think they do so with the hope they can find institutional support that comes with an MFA program and most likely finish a book and meet an agent, if the program is the sort that attracts agents a lot.
Do you have the plan of practising what you study in the future or you want to be a full-time writer?
I am planning to become a full-time writer or a full-time teacher-writer. Being in the sciences was figuratively like drowning, even though some times it was fun. I hope to pursue writing with every bit of my strength from now on.
Where do you want to see yourself few years from now as a writer and a person?
I want to see myself in the future having an agent, a book completed and, most likely, a publisher who is willing to take the risk on me. That is not too greedy, I hope.
What should the world expect from you soon?
I don’t know. A poetry collection, for starts. Then maybe a short story collection.