Interview with a 2021 SWAP JUDGE
Roseline Mgbodichinma Interviewed by Adedolapo Lawal
Roseline Mgbodichinma is a Nigerian writer, poet, and blogger passionate about documenting women's stories. She is currently pursuing a law degree and actively freelancing.
She is a contributing Fiction Editor for Barren Magazine, a Nairobi fiction writing workshop (NF2W) scholarship recipient, and a SprinNG Writing and Advancement Fellowship alumna. She won the Audience Favourite Award for the Okadabooks and union bank campus writing challenge. In addition, she is the third prize winner for the PIN food poetry contest.
Her work has been published on Isele, Native Skin, Down River Road, Amplify, JFA human rights mag, Blue marble Review, Kalahari Review, Indianapolis Review, the hellebore, and elsewhere. You can reach her on her blog at www.mgbodichi.com, where she writes about art, issues, and lifestyle.
It is not strange that despite being a brilliant writer, you are exploring something different academically. You are pursuing a law degree.
Where did the interest in law come from? When did your writing journey start? Does your interest in law compliment or influence your creative pursuits?
I would like to say that I was one of those people who in the early stages were passionate about fixing the justice system in my country and that was what sparked my interest in law, but this only came later. I chose to study law because I was in a debate club in secondary school. This premise somehow meant I would make a good lawyer, or at least that was what I was encouraged to believe, so you can imagine my shock when I got into university and found out it was way more demanding than merely making arguments. However, I am getting the hang of it now and will soon, shockingly, become a lawyer.
I started writing in primary school, but it was not until I got into secondary school that I realized how passionate I was about storytelling. This was the period I kept a diary and wrote everything from stories, to poetry, to random quotes. I honestly believed I was the next best thing after Chimamanda Adichie that year. I have since returned to those pieces and promised myself and the world that they will not see the light of day.
I do not think my interest in law influences my creative pursuit; they are two separate parts of my life I am developing independently. If anything, it only makes me aware of my rights and chances. Still, in terms of complimenting my creative pursuits, I am interested in intellectual property law, Primarily the aspect that protects literary works from Copyright infringement, so I guess there is an aspect of literature in law and law in literature.
You have won several contests like the Audience Favourite Award for the Okadabooks and PIN food poetry contest. In addition, you recently served as a judge for the 2021 SprinNG Poetry Contest. I can imagine this has influenced your creative elimination process to determine what to select and submit for any contest.
Can you walk us through your writing process?
My writing process is mostly spontaneous, but sometimes I like to fall into a routine and journal every day whether the words make sense or not, then I come back to it when I have a deadline, and no idea is forthcoming. The truth is stories come to me in the most random and mundane ways. I can be inspired by a billboard on a road trip, a line in conversation with someone, an outfit on a person, or the aroma and taste of food. I have dreamt of writing a poem and woke up to write the same thing on paper; this, in many ways, suggests that my writing process is divine. I wish I had a more concise explanation about my creative process, but I don’t. I just allow the voice in my spirit to guide me on what works and what doesn’t before submitting for any contest or competition.
You were SprinNG’s writer of the month for May 2021. Your pieces, such as “There Is No Hell Hotter Than My Anxiety,” are undoubtedly brilliant. You wrote somewhere in the poem that “every poem I write is penance for all the days I acted a script and called it life.” It reminds me of a poem in Pamilerin Jacob’s book, Memoir of Crushed Petals. It is on page 47 where he writes,
“every day, death is postponed
of an unfinished poem”
When it comes to writing poetry and particularly using it to enhance mental health in Nigeria, what inspires you and who are your influences?
I really love Pamilerin's work, and I am grateful his writing exists. The whole discourse of mental health is very personal to me. I lost someone very dear to me to mental health issues and being present with this person through the battle up until death leaves a kind of burden I only ease when I write. I write about mental health, first for this person, to somehow immortalise or make sense of the loss. I just hope that someone struggling and warring with their minds or lives will read my work and find succour in the fact that they are not alone. There is still a kind of shame associated with talking about mental health in Nigeria, and I want to demystify it to let people know that it is okay to be open about mental health issues, especially in a country like ours where the system is after your sanity.
You have a very humorous side that people who spend time on your blog enjoy. This humour even came through in your recent publication in SprinNG’s Afro Eros anthology, where you sarcastically described a man who couldn’t meet up with his sexual promises in a poem titled “When All You Feel is a Tingle.” Notably, an excerpt of your poem became the title of the anthology, which many admired.
What insights this humor? What do you plan to do with it? Besides blogging, do you see yourself exploring more of your humour in poetry and fiction?
At the risk of sounding precious, I would say my friends and family seem to find me really funny. The confidence this gives me, and the fact that laughter is a coping mechanism for me largely helps me flesh out my humour. When a situation is trying so hard to frustrate me, I turn it into cruise because of the popular Nigerian mantra “las las we go dey alright.” On a more serious note, I hope to write more light-hearted pieces. I genuinely love making people laugh, and I want to have a collection of humorous poems and short stories someday. Also, my mum and dad are really funny, so maybe it’s just genetics.
Last year August, you published a piece titled “This Is Where My Sense of Humour Draws the Line” In that article, you wrote, “What is funny or ludicrous to me usually depends on context and motive; if it comes across as spiteful or derogatory then it is no longer a source of laughter for me.” So often, people in older generations criticize younger generations for their sensitivity about issues and even humor. But, unfortunately, the new wave of “Canceling Culture” doesn’t make things better.
When you write a humorous piece or any content, do you feel cautious about your intentions and a possible misinterpretation by another person? What editing or proofreading processes do you go through to ensure that you have communicated what you intended and in a way that you can defend?
I write first without thinking about my audiences or their perceptions. Sometimes writing for me is a thing of urgency, so I want to churn out as many words as I can when they come to me. As a result, I become a bit cautious while editing. I am often guilty of trying to sound politically correct because society no longer tries to gauge or understand intentions and honest inquisitions. To ensure I am not evasive with my work, I send my writing to mentors and friends to give it a third eye. The beauty of art is that it can have diverse interpretations and exceed the expectations the artist may have intended, so misinterpretation or miscommunication is expected. I make peace with it. My humour is never malicious and never will be, but I will handle it accordingly, whatever this means if it ever comes across like that.
February 2019, you wrote an article on “Issues with Body Image and the Media.” You touched lightly on the topic of plastic surgery. Yet, two years after the post, if you look at the media today, people talk about plastic surgery with the perspective of “if you have the money and you want to change something you don’t like, why not?” Or they talk about it from the perspective that it is only an “enhancement” of one’s features.
What inspired this post? Is this a topic you are very passionate about and would love to write more about in your upcoming work?
Growing up as a Plus Size girl or woman comes with many challenges, one of which is body shaming from both women and men. I have spoken to young girls who think they have a problem with their bodies because of the type of content on social media. I am very passionate about Body Image, the media, and its effect on women and girls. I believe there is no such thing as an “ideal” body type, and this craze to fit into society's definition of beauty ends in physical and mental health issues. Furthermore, that plastic surgery is only an “enhancement” is far from the truth. Some of these surgeries must be maintained and retouched regularly, but people are not properly educated, so they think it is a walk in the park. A BBL, for example, is one of the most dangerous plastic surgeries to undergo, and one in three thousand BBL’s results in death... Okay, I have gone on a rant, but I am passionate about this, and I hope to start conversations around it with my work.
Still, on this body-shaming topic, you had an interview with Alexandra Obochi, a professional makeup artist, content creator, and curve model.
What inspired the interview, and do you see yourself doing more regarding this issue to empower people? If yes, what?
Alexander is living wholly and unapologetically as a Plus Sized woman navigating her way through the fashion industry, and it is very inspiring to witness her bloom and grow in a time like this. I wanted to learn about her Journey - the wins and pitfalls so that women and girls can read and have the courage to explore whatever passions they choose to. I wanted to spark conversations around body shaming and bring the subtleties of it to everyone's attention. I definitely want to do more in this regard. I am interested in fashion, and I hope to participate in a campaign regarding body shaming, own an all-inclusive fashion brand where people with different body shapes and sizes can find their fit. I also want to do a documentary about young girls and how their background continually affects their reasoning about body image. I will do more interviews with middle-aged women and learn how their ideals about beauty standards and body images have evolved or regressed between childhood and adulthood. At this point, I leave my aspirations in the hands of God, let him do his thing.
At the beginning of their journeys, I met many writers who thought they could only write one genre or had the vision to publish only one book, which has changed for them.
What is one truth you believed about yourself regarding your creative work that has now changed?
I didn’t think writing was a feasible career path. Storytelling did not seem like a “real job” to me in the past. But now, start-ups, magazines, presses, organizations, etc., cannot exist without writers. So, I am more positive and keener on pursuing writing as a career path and grateful that it is possible.
You’ve won many prizes and have your works featured in many top literary magazines as well.
How have these awards and achievements influenced you? Have they provided a new perspective or experience to your work?
I must admit this question made me wince a little, and I am honestly just grateful that one piece at a time, my work is finding home in places my feet have not yet touched. Getting published and winning prizes is overwhelming validation for me and because of the good fortune of getting published. I believe all the stories inside me will find expression; there is no limit now. Also, winning prizes leaves an uneasy feeling that the bar for me has been raised; I have now become overly critical of my work, I don’t know how good or bad this is.
The SprinNG Women Authors Prize started to promote female Nigerian authors and raise the kind of awareness that allows them to gain national book and publishing-related prizes at home. The prize is dedicated to purchasing copies of the author’s books and distributing them to influential people who can attract more readers. However, there is always more we can do.
I am curious to know what more you envision can be done, or would you like to support female Nigerian Authors?
The SprinNG Women Authors Prize is a good work SprinNG has started, and it is a step in the right direction - a seed that would sprout into overwhelming possibilities. At this point, it is paramount for individuals, institutions, the government, and organizations to identify with, recognize and support this blessed work of supporting female Nigerian Authors by sponsoring future prizes and actively publicising. Until I can do more in this regard, I make a conscious effort to read women and engage with their work.
You participated at SprinNG Writing Fellowship and Nairobi Fiction Writing Fellowship, where you took a poetry class with Clifton Gachuga. You are also currently doing a four-month ECW mentorship with Terese and a participant of the SprinNG Advancement Fellowship. One of the things we admire about you is that the learning never stops, and you set an example for many others who want to succeed in the Nigerian literary industry.
What or who inspires your passion for learning and the commitments to improve yourself? What are your long-term goals with publishing? What other learning opportunities do you hope to explore nationally and internationally?
Learning is the foundation for development and opportunity. Had I not partaken in these fellowships and mentorships, I doubt I'd be able to call myself a good writer. Of course, I am very aware that there are great writers without mentorships and fellowships, but I speak for myself in this instant. One of the many things that attract me to these opportunities is the community and resources it provides. Writing and editing alongside people who share the same aspirations and interests as you can launch you into unimaginable heights, there is a creative synergy I can't fully express in words. I have also made genuine friendships and gained valuable connections from these learning opportunities.
I motivate and inspire myself to learn and be committed because this is the only way I know how to grow. Some of the people I admire are avid readers and learners themselves, so I guess this is also an influence. My long-term goals are to publish chapbooks and write novels that are relatable and accessible in different parts of the world. I am very interested in translation because each language gives a different depth, and I want to see my work expressed in many different tongues. While I wish there were more opportunities for writers here in Nigeria, I hope to pursue an MFA in creative writing in Iowa soon.
I have seen many writers switch personalities in most of their works, whether in their themes, characterization, or style.
Do you see yourself being a writer who explores diversity, or would you pursue consistency in your creative works? Whichever option you pick, explain why.
I’d like to be consistent in my diversity. What I am trying to say is, human beings are too dynamic for me not to explore beyond my creative bounds. I want to be known as a writer who explores specific themes, but I don’t want to be boxed into my thematic focus. The world is my oyster, so I would be doing myself and society a disservice if I didn’t dance around it with my pen in the most diverse ways possible.
As a young female Nigerian writer, there are several stereotypes you have to combat. First, the ageism that comes with being young, the sexism that comes with being female, and the unseriousness people attach to any artistic pursuits. Sometimes, with these identities, it seems like there is something to fight every day.
What positive experiences have you had as a young female Nigerian writer that keep you going?
I’d like to quote some lines from Wana Udobang’s poem ‘sister circle’ it says "...These women in my sister circle prop me up, straighten my spine, piece together all my rupturing bones and command me to move…” these lines stick with me because of the kind of warmth I have received from women in the Nigerian literary space. It honestly moves me to tears to understand just how much these women want to see me win, from sharing resources and giving financial support to offering to write recommendations for me, soliciting for my work, and creating opportunities and spaces where I can thrive. The mere fact that I am judging this prize is a testament to this support I am asserting; the good women of SprinNG believed I could do this, and here I am alongside women I admire, which is just one example of the incredible kindness I have received.
Different aspects, genres, and themes of your work remind me of many great writers. For example, when I read your blog and how you communicate your ideas in non-fiction, I think of Luvvie Ajayi. However, when I read your poems, it is different.
Can you share up to five female Nigerian authors that inspire you the most?
In no particular order, Ukamaka Olisakwe, Lola Shoneyin, Oyindamola Shoola, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and Titilope Sonuga, there are still many more, but you said five.
What do you think is your purpose in life? How does writing play a role in that?
My purpose in this life is enjoyment.
But to answer this question, I say every day I wake, I realize that purpose is a thing that continues to unravel itself as we grow, I am still learning what exactly it is I am sent to this world to do, but I know I am here to tell stories in a way that connects people to the best and limitless versions of themselves, especially women and girls. When I think about my purpose, I hear influence, emotion, women, prosperity, storytelling, and love. How all these things will conflate into one or spread out in different forms, I am not sure, I just believe.
Adeoye Favour Isaiah
2/10/2021 12:18:54 pm
Wow, wow, wow. I doff my cap for this great and inspiring creative; Roseline Mgbodichinma. I hope to meet you, someday. The interview had a kind of magical flow. The diversity of themes explored from writing, law, and its juxtaposition, blogging, media space, plastic surgery, body shaming, and the writer's background, motivation, unflinching learning attitude and prizes won so far is quite colossal! This interview is a brewing hope to the fainting pen!
7/10/2021 09:20:42 pm
Roseline Mgbodichimma to say I am motivated by you is an understatement. Thank you for this piece. I cannot want you see you grow more and take the world by the storm like you are supposed to. God bless you for me!!
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