Chika Unigwe, whose novel, On Black Sisters’ Street, has been shortlisted for this year’s Nigeria Prize for Literature, has disclosed how popular Nollywood actress Patience Ozokwor, aka Mama G, impacted her writing career.
The internationally acclaimed Nigerian writer made this disclosure in a chat with PMNews shortly after she was shortlisted for the $100,000 prize. The prize is awarded annually by the Nigeria Liquified Natural Gas, NLNG. This year’s award will be presented on 1 November.
Unigwe said she co-hosted a radio show at the age of nine with the actress, who was then a presenter at the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria, Enugu. Impressed by her performance, Mama G gave gave her a copy of Louisa Alcott’s Little Women as gift on her ninth birthday. The novel, she said, helped her transit from storybooks to novels.
“ I was in primary school when Ozokwor came to my school to scout for a pupil to co-host a radio show with her on FRCN Enugu. It was a music request programme. My teacher recommended me. It was a very exceptional experience. Every Thursday, Ozokwor would pick me up from school, take me to the station and we’d read letters from the listeners. I got some fan mails. It was very exciting for a kid of my age as one can imagine. Once I missed recording because I had travelled for an uncle’s burial and some listeners wrote in to say they missed my voice, the Belgium- based writer, whose latest novel, Night Dancer, is receiving rave reviews in the international media, said.
On Black Sisters’ Street tells the story of four African migrants, who leave their country for the riches of Europe but ended up as prostitutes in Antwerp, Belgium. It has been nominated for the prize alongside Ngozi Achebe’s Onaedo: The Blacksmith’s Daughter and Olusola Olugbesan’s Only A Canvas.
Asked how she felt being shortlisted for the prize, Unigwe said: “I feel enormously lucky. It is a huge honour to come this far. A very pleasant surprise!”
She said she writes to explain the world to herself and “ to answer questions I do not get ready answers to, to tell stories that demand to be told.”
Born in Enugu, Unigwe holds a Bachelor’s degree in English Language and Literature of University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and and a Master’s degree of Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium. She also holds a doctorate degree, obtained from University of Leiden, The Netherlands.