Despite your Caine prize win last month, most South African readers are likely to be unfamiliar with you. I know you were born in Nairobi, I know you studied law, and I know you have written some exceptional short fiction. Other than that, who is Okwiri Oduor?
I don’t know if a description of myself from within myself would be a fair one. Besides being born in Nairobi, ambling through law school, and then somehow fooling everyone into thinking I can write, there really is nothing left to say about myself.
When I first read your Caine-winning story, My Father’s Head, I set out to find more of your work. I couldn’t seem to find anything. Then I came across a young Kenyan writer called Claudette Oduor, who I thought initially was your sister or something. I had visions of this amazing writing family — until I realised, obviously, that it was you all along. Why the change in pen name?
I came full circle. For a long time, I had been running away from many things, including this name that had been given to me at birth, but which I had grown up believing was rough and ugly and unacceptable. The things I believed about my name can be taken as metaphors for how I saw myself and my writing as well, and so coming to terms with the person I was meant first and foremost carrying my own name with no shame. I chose to be unapologetic about being myself.
Read it at the M&G.
Image – Okwiri Oduor