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Uzodinma (Uzo) Iweala is the author of Beasts of No Nation. The novel, his debut, came out of his undergraduate thesis work at Harvard and was conducted under the supervision[…]

Iweala talks about the struggle to get published, his advice to other young authors and the impact of his work.

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Question: What are the challenges that young writers face?


Uzodinma Iweala: So to go back, I mean I think one . . . The first challenge I would say obviously was . . . which we talked about for a while . . . was just the logistics of getting published. The second is tackling the ideas of discipline and dedication. And I think the third is kind of like having people take you seriously as a young writer. I mean I think a lot of people wanna attach that “young” and say that you don’t know anything about the world. And it’s true. There’s a lot you have to learn about the world; but I think at the same time, you know people don’t want to acknowledge that as a young person you do have a perspective, and that perspective is equally valid. And in some cases perhaps more open and more honest than the perspective of someone who’s a bit older. You know and that’s not to say that the older perspective should be thrown out. It shouldn’t. It’s incredibly important. But I think people need to give more weight to what young people have to say about the world that they see. I mean if you look at it . . . I mean if you look at a lot of the things that have been put together, like they’re being put together by young people.


Question: What is your advice to a young writer?


Uzodinma Iweala: I would say number one, don’t worry about getting published, just write.  Number two, just write.  Three is make sure you read.  Like I think that’s another thing that happens a lot is people just think, “Oh, let’s just write.  Let’s just write.”  But one of the things my writing teachers always stressed, and one of the things we did in class – we read probably more than we wrote.  And that’s the thing is you need to understand how people tell stories.  You need to understand how stories, you know . . . the different perspectives, the different voices, the different traditions.  So read as widely as you can, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.  I mean just read, read, read, read, read, because through that you’ll begin to . . . begin to understand how to craft your own story and how to put things together.  I don’t think that that’s necessarily stressed enough, but…


Question: What impact does your work have on the world?


Uzodinma Iweala: One is to bring . . . to bring a story, a particular story about this issue out into the world.  You know child soldiers that . . .  Child soldiers in general and child soldiers in Africa have been written about to varying levels of exposure.  I mean like that I got as much exposure as I did, again, as . . .  There’s . . . there’s . . .  There are a number of factors involved in that; but I . . . I hope the book, because it’s had that much exposure, has been able to speak to people about the situation and get people thinking about the situation.  And not just in terms of, “Oh, what can I do?” but how to understand emotionally this sort of situation.  And that, really for me, was what the book . . . what writing the book was about.  It was . . . you know I came into contact with this through reading the newspapers and speaking with someone who was a former child solder there.  And I really wanted to do more to try and understand that perspective. You know additionally I think the idea is just to show again, it’s like, you know in terms of certain voices.  Like look, you don’t have to be an expert.  You don’t have to, because I’m certainly not an expert in mental health issues, or child soldiers, or conflicts.  You don’t have to be, you know, X number of years old.  Like you . . .  What you have to do is you have to be dedicated to telling a particular story.  And you have to understand that that dedication is going to . . . to make you do the research.  It’s going to make you do, you know, the fact finding that you need to do.  And it’s going to make you sit down and really think about how you’re going to structure the story so that it does affect people. 


Recorded on: 10/7/07




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