Monica Arac de Nyeko: ‘Procrastination is the devil, that and fear’

What are your 5 favourite novels?

The God Of Small Things by Arundati Roy, Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels, Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga, Song of Lawino, the long poem by Okot p’Bitek, The Concubine by Elechi Amadi. I also love So Long A Letter too by Mariama Bâ. So a bit more than you asked for I suppose.

Which 3 authors do you consider to have influenced you the most? How did each influence your work?

Perhaps not specific authors but that generation of Chinua Achebe, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Okot p’Bitek, Wole Soyinka, Timothy Wangusa, and Buchi Emecheta. They really set the pace.

What plans do you have for your literary career over the next 3-5 years? What are you working on? What do you hope to publish? Which artists/authors/publishers/editors do you hope to work with?

I would like to see my novel in print. That would be nice. I just sent the draft to my agent. I hope he likes it.

Are you involved with any literary organisations in Africa or outside of Africa? How do you see the work of these organisation as contributing to your vision and career, as well as to broader cultural production in Africa?

I work full time so that limits my ability to do all the things I would like to do. But for now, I would like to focus on writing stories and publishing.

Please could you tell readers about your most recent artistic project, what it involved, and what you learned from it?

I finally finished my novel after nearly ten years of procrastination. Procrastination is the devil, that and fear and you’ve got to fight them like you fight the devil.

How do you hope/anticipate that the Hay Festival and the Africa39 project will help advance your career? What impact has it had thus far? What specific things would you like to see Hay Festival do for writers?

I am happy that seeing my name on the list gave me a bit of momentum to try and finish the novel.

What are the main challenges you see facing artists, writers, and literary culture in your country and region? How are you ameliorating these difficulties? What specific things would you like to see done in order to address these challenges?

I see several opportunities and an absolutely fantastic interest in the arts by the public. We have just got to keep them engaged by continuing to tell the stories that capture the voices of this time and generation.

Have you read the work of any of the other Africa39? Which works have you enjoyed (Please write a few words on the aspects of the works you enjoyed)? Which Africa39 authors would you like to work with (and on what kinds of projects)?

I read Glaydah’s Namukasa’s story and Chika Unigwe’s. Both have strong narrative voices.

What festivals/workshops/residencies have you attended recently? What was your role? What did you take away from the experiences you had there?

I was at Ake Books Festival a year or two ago. It was fun being with people who care about books.

Are there any authors whom you mentor, whose work you’d like to mention or talk about?


Previously, in our ‘Reading Africa39’ series of essays, we considered de Nyeko’s ‘The Banana Eater’, published in the Africa39 annthology.

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