If your bio were to appear in The New Yorker, what would it say?
Of course, it would include my name: Chidi Asoluka. It would say that I am from Irvington, NJ, a small town outside of Newark. I’m the only son of Nigerian immigrants. My fiction usually deals with this fact, consciously or not. And for humor’s sake, my bio would definitely have to include that I’ve been emailing their publication my stories once a month since 2007 and am always impressed that I get an (rejection) email back each time. The little things make me happy.
What’s your first move now that you’re graduating?
This summer, I will continue to work on my collection of short stories, To The Dark Place. In July, I will be traveling to Port Townsend, WA to take part in their annual writers’ conference. I will be working with Peter Orner, author of The Second Coming of Mavala Shikongo, a book I loved. My goals there are to spend more quality time with my project and get some more feedback. In August, I will begin teaching 9th and 10th grade English Literature at North Star Academy in Newark. There has also been some talk of teaching creative writing which would be awesome. I’m looking forward to what’s ahead.
Of all the books you’ve read in the last two years, what are some that “knocked your head off”?
Hmm. I’ve read so many books in the past two years that were so entertaining and lovely. Chris Abani’s “Becoming Abigail” comes to mind immediately. He handles great tragedy in such a delicate, beautiful fashion. It’s like the literary Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind but much darker. To keep the Nigerian theme going, Chiamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “Half of Yellow Sun” was another book that blew me away. It actually helped me talk to my father about the Biafra civil war in a way I couldn’t before. It’s cool when literature can create a dialogue where there once was silence. Lastly, Tobias Wolff’s Our Story Begins is like a textbook that I open time and time again. It’s that good!
Has your perspective on the MFA experience changed at all?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot. You know how people say that: I’ve been thinking about this a lot and you wonder if that’s really true. It’s such an intellectual thing to say. In my case, though, it’s really true. I have been thinking about this a lot. I came into this program with no real idea what I was going to do afterwards. I had an idea that I would teach, maybe. But really, I just wanted to see where my writing would take me. Two years and a MFA degree later, I think this program has given me the tools and the encouragement to tell the stories I’ve always wanted to tell. I always thought writing was this magic that happens between the writer and the page. I was totally ignorant of the work that happens after the magic. This program has taught me that I have to continue reshaping my work like it’s a wooden sculpture. It is through this revision where important, worthwhile literature is made.That translates well into the real world, right? You have to first understand what your magic is, your passion, and you have to be able to work hard to make it work for you. So I would have to say the MFA means more to me than metaphors and POVs, it has been a true life lesson.
Do you have any advice for incoming students?
Take advantage of the community. It is very rare to be around so many like minded people day in and day out. The best moments of this program were when I had lunch, dinner, late night drinks with my classmates and just talked. Talked about our joys of creating works of art and its frustrations. We also talked about each other, shared our own unique histories. I learned about places I’ve never been, people I had never met. It is here where I found true inspiration to keep moving further as a writer. Also, as a Newark native, I would also encourage students to explore the city. In many ways, Newark is also a character that has such an interesting and compelling story. As a creative person, I think it behooves you to dabble in what our city has to offer. You will be very surprised.
(interview via Saeed Jones)