Share this post!
“I want to know what my character’s secrets are and how they deal with the secrets that haunt them.” —Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike
Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Calgary. He holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Alberta, Canada. An alumnus of the International Writing Program (USA), Umezurike is the author of Wish Maker (Masobe Books, 2021), Double Wahala, Double Trouble (Griots Lounge Publishing, 2021), and a co-editor of Wreaths for Wayfarers, an anthology of poems (Daraja Press, 2020). His poems and short fiction have been widely anthologized online and in print magazines, and he has interviewed over forty writers for Read Alberta, Prism International, Brittle Paper, and Africa in Words.
Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike’s short story collection, Double Wahala, Double Trouble is a collection of eleven stories by the award-winning poet, short story writer, children’s novelist, and literary scholar.
In this moving, joyful, and vulnerable conversation with Uchechukwu Peter Umezurike, we talk about not only about this collection but also about how the tenderness of Shakespeare and the romantic poets brought him to poetry during dark times in Nigeria’s history, the value of family, mentorship, and relationships in both African and Alberta literary communities, inhabiting and reflecting character realities, secrets and shocks in character development, and, how poetry, story and being part of literary communities has helped him navigate antiblackness in North America while continuing to follow his impulse for joy.
For Uchechukwu Umezurike, reading the romantic poets, particularly those such as Shakespeare and Edmund Spenser, offered him an escape from the political unrest and military tyranny in Nigeria in the 1990s. This involved killing of dissidents, activists, and those who opposed the military government at the time. Umezurike has a background in political science and during his undergrad became more captivated by stories from South African authors that were writing about the realities of living under the apartheid system of governments, and which, in a way, he felt held a type of similarity to what many Nigerians were experiencing. These experiences and his own curiosity in understanding human nature created an interest in writing a collection of his own. Eventually, he went on to publish a collection of poems titled Dark Through The Delta, which reflected his disenchantment with the political system in Nigeria at a time.
Umezurike writes about humanity with a depth of reflection, humour and insight through the various mediums of novel, short story, and poetry. In his recent short story collection titled Double Wahala, Double Trouble, he leads us on a journey of self-discovery and human experience. We talk at length about his mastery with inhabiting his character’s realities and the fondness he has for shocking his characters, and, also leaving things unsaid or undiscovered. He says, “I want to know what my character’s secrets are and how they deal with the secrets that haunt them. I think there are times when we shock our loved ones, partners or children, and I wanted to explore some of those qualities of shock and pain, in Double Wahala, Double Trouble.” When I asked him about his endings that feel like beginnings, Umezurike offered, “How do I decide when the story is finished? I like ending my stories in a way that leaves a question mark. That asks the reader to wonder, pause and ask themselves what might happen next to these characters if the story were to continue. I wanted that sense of incompleteness in the story.”
In the prologue for Double Wahala, Double Trouble, Umezurike writes that the collection maps stories of messiness, of fragile ties, and vulnerabilities of what we claim as humanity in a world that is doggedly inequitable. I asked him how he navigated that inequity as a writer and an academic, being a man of colour in Alberta. In what I quickly realized was his beautiful nature to be open and vulnerable, he shared, “I seek joy. I look for joy in people understanding their own struggles and realizing that we all share a common vulnerability . . . And for me, one of the ways I’ve been able to deal with this inequity, and racial or racist incidents, is to take my writing seriously. I think as writers, the purpose and power of our art is in how we use voice and for what purpose, we use that voice. So, I’ve got to keep using my own voice to reflect marginalized realities, and I don’t intend to lose my voice.”
This interview is deeply compelling, joy filled and offers insight into the mind of a powerful voice in Canadian and Nigerian Literature. Listen here: