BY THE BOOK: Bura-Bari Nwilo

Bura-Bari Nwilo, a Nigerian writer and poet, reads his book "A Tiny Place Called Happiness". PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • I read the Caine list. I read the stories of the Commonwealth list and all. I find those who make it impressive.
  • Movies make me cry, not books. I am yet to see a book that would make me cry.
  • And maybe if I know that it will make me cry, I’d probably not read it.
  • For comments or inquiries, e-mail: [email protected]

Bura-Bari Nwilo’s fiction, non-fiction and poetry have appeared in the Association of Nigerian Authors’ Review, Kalahari Review, Saraba literary magazine, Sentinel Nigeria, Ake Review, Brittle Paper,, GuerillaBasement, Muwado, Guardian Nigeria, 234Next, Muse Journal of the Department of English and Literary Studies at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, and a lot more.

Bura-Bari’s story, “Like Eyes Liquid with Hope”, was long-listed for the annual Writivism literary festival in Kampala, Uganda, and included in an anthology.

His book of short stories, A Tiny Place Called Happiness, was shortlisted for the ANA/Abubakar Gimba Prize for short stories in 2017.

Bura-Bari, a native of Ogoniland in Rivers State, lives in Port Harcourt, Nigeria. He studied English and Literature at the University of Nigeria.

He spoke to

Tell me the three books that excited you the most in 2017?

To narrow the books I found exciting in 2017 down to three would be a bit unfair but I’d try.

I read Never Look an American in the Eye, the non-fiction book by Okey Ndibe. I love Mr Ndibe’s writing, his choice of words and narrative pattern. It might not have been the stories but maybe the presentations and the ease with which the stories flowed.

I loved it and since it was a throwback to his life before his relocation to the United States and his encounters in the US, they were quite interesting. I had a fair view of Africa and Nigeria, especially some four decades ago.

I came across Ms Adichie’s small book called Dear Ijeawale or the Feminist Manifesto. I particularly loved it because for me, it was the making of a robot. The advice could be interesting but I was seeing the making of a non-human.

Ms Adichie is a brilliant writer and I wish she had used the ideas in that book for her fiction and created a character that grew up with a set of rules a mother or aunt handed to her. It would have been more entertaining.

I read Ann M. Martin’s A Dog’s Life. I have been reading some works for the purpose of description. I pay attention to how the author handles the perspective of a dog and handles it with such beauty that wants you to wish you were a dog for a day. I liked it and it has enabled me learn a thing or two for my short stories.

I read short stories by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, especially his classics. The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World and the story about the fallen old angel and its blessings and woes. Gabo is one writer I would read any day for his brilliance and his uplifting of ordinariness into some lofty beauty and relevance.

Which two books do you hold so dear that they can’t possibly be lent out?

This would be works by Chinua Achebe or The House of Hunger by Dambudzo Marechera. I wanted to mention Junot Diaz but that would be violating the rule.

Things Fall Apart comes alive every time I open it. It is full of new insights especially because of its settings. The Africa depicted in TFA is one that I wish to escape to sometimes. But the story and its politics can be fascinating too, especially if you read the essays that followed it.

I used to see myself as the new Dambudzo but I am not half full of troubles like the man. I was born the year he died and his stories are such I can relate with.

I would probably allow you to read Things Fall Apart and The House of Hunger in my room and not take it home. I misplaced the first copies I bought and had to buy new copies.


Your favourite childhood books? Why?

I did not have a childhood of books. It was a struggle. I got access to literary texts in my secondary school. That shaped every other thing. But as an adult, I read Aké – The Years of Childhood by Wole Soyinka.

I think I read some abridged version of works by Shakespeare. Before university, I got a collection of all of Shakespeare’s works and I have read most of his plays but as a child, books were not particularly visible in it.

If you were to dine with three writers dead/alive, who would they be and why?

Three writers? The first would be Achebe. The second would be Dambudzo and the third would be Ken Saro-Wiwa for mad humour. For the living writers, Junot, Chimamanda, and maybe Soyinka. Forgive me if I had Gabriel Garcia. I am more of an African reader but if you look at me with an eye then Thomas Hardy would be included in the list. And for great sentences, add Ernest Hemingway.

Most unforgettable character from a book?

Wouldn’t that be the Mayor of Casterbridge? Such a fated life and poor fellow. I don’t know but I have massive pity for him and his creator.

For his rise to fame from nothing, Okonkwo by Chinua Achebe would be one of my most unforgettable characters too.

Which book do you wish you had written and why?

The powerful imagery created in We Need New Names could have made me wish I wrote it until I read about the term poverty-porn. Anyways, I love the books I read and admire them but I await my own novel.

If you were sent off to Robben Island for a year, which three books would you take with you?

I’d go with Things Fall Apart by Achebe, Soza Boy by Ken Saro-Wiwa and take the entire collection of Shakespeare since that would take me a longer time to finish. I would need healthy meals though and some drinks, if you don’t mind me adding that to the list.

Do you think book festivals, literary prizes and writing workshops are important to a writer’s growth?

Yeah. Today’s writers have more distractions than ever. These platforms may create closeness to the arts and enable friendship and conversations that may contribute to the writer. I recommend it. I am not a fan of them but you can’t know what you might actually learn at a festival.

Most unforgettable character from a book? Why?

Lol. Don’t laugh at me if I mentioned Okonkwo again. I find his stance against imperialism quite interesting. And since I am not huge in nature, the way he walks and prides himself and his works are quite impressive.

I like him because he represents a lot more than just a character but an institution that had to be brought down. It is something we are still struggling to refix or remodel in Africa – in politics or the economy of our continent.

Tell me about the last book that made you cry?

Movies make me cry, not books. I am yet to see a book that would make me cry. And maybe if I know that it will make me cry, I’d probably not read it. Funny but true.

Among your contemporaries, who do you consider the most exciting newcomer in the writing world and why?

I can’t mention any name but I read the Caine list. I read the stories of the Commonwealth list and all. I find those who make it impressive. Anyone that’s writing currently is important.

What are you currently writing?

Short stories. I find it therapeutic. I don’t know when I’d be done with a new collection but for now it has to be short stories until I find a great place for residency and fellowship. The kind of space I have now can only afford me short stories.


BY THE BOOK is a literary series that covers authors, bloggers, actors, academics and poets of note in the African continent. For comments or inquiries, e-mail: [email protected]