Openness to the Unfamiliar

I wrote a short essay in response to a question posed by the editors of Words Without Borders: “Can international literature make us better travelers?” I was drawn to the work of Pita Nwana, whose novel Omenuko is considered the first novel written in the Igbo language, as well as an lecture by Chinua Achebe, where he denounces the work of T. J. Dennis, a missionary stationed at Onitsha.

“Sometime this year I will embark on a journey through nearly dozen towns of southeastern Nigeria, to research a book I am writing. The ethnic composition of those towns, and the language spoken, is predominantly Igbo. I will arrive with a sense of alienation from Igbo, a determination to immerse myself in the language, and a mastery of English. The matter for me, as I suppose it was for Dennis, is the terms of such an Igbo-English exchange. On my trip I hope to treat Igbo with the same attention I have paid English all my lifeā€”to consider, for instance, the subtle shifts in meaning in a word as it is used in a range of Igbo dialects.”

Read more. There were other responses by M. Lynx Qualey, Tomaso Biancardi, and Shahnaz Habib.