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An Interview with ‘For Sizakele’ Author Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene

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An Interview with ‘For Sizakele’ Author Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene

Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene, Tagg Magazine

(Photo by An Xiao)

Yvonne Fly Onakeme Etaghene is an Ijaw and Urhobo Nigerian dyke performance activist, poet, dancer, educator, actress and mixed-media visual artist. She engages a radical vulnerability and candor in her artwork and uses storytelling to build authentic human connection through passionate artistic expression. Etaghene has produced four solo art exhibitions and performed internationally. She is the founder of Sugarcane, an LGBTQ Of Color writing workshop based in the principles of June Jordan’s Poetry for the People. She wrote and performed in two multi-media one-woman shows, Volcano’s Birthright{s} and GUAVA. Etaghene has published four chapbooks of poetry: afrocrown: fierce poetry (2000), write or die (2004), tongue twisted transcontinental sista (2006) and skin into verse (2014.)  She released an album of poetry and music entitled liberty avenue, nigeria, usa (2004.)  Etaghene is the author of For Sizakele, a novel that addresses transcontinental identity, intimate partner violence, queer gender, and how we love as illuminators of who we are.

When did you decide to become a writer?
I started writing when I was nine. I had just returned to the States from Nigeria and I was a bit lonely. I was teased a lot as a kid. So I wrote. I wrote because I wanted to create a space where I had the kind of friends I wanted. I wrote about adventures and friendships and just fun things. Writing became this space for me to breathe and create worlds. It was a safe haven from all the shit in the world.

Why did you write For Sizakele?
I wrote For Sizakele simply because it was the book I was looking for in bookstores and libraries and could not find. I wrote it because I wanted to read it. The fact that this book started from that pure place is so beautiful. This book came from me as a reader wanting to read something; I craved this story so much that when I didn’t find it had already been written, I wrote it. That’s a beautiful place for a body of art to spring from.

Why is For Sizakele important?
I love this book so tremendously much. I spent over 14 years of my life creating, writing, and editing a story that was as true, real and beautiful as I could. So much of what most people know about Queer Africans is some horrific story they half-read, or a stereotype or an assumption they have. As an African, I’m proud to share a novel that discusses love, gender identity, intimate partner violence, heartache and healing in deeply nuanced ways. I am so proud of that. And I’m proud that I put out into the world something I didn’t see there before. I’m a huge believer in the power of storytelling—we must tell our stories, especially those of use who are marginalized, misunderstood and stereotyped. For Sizakele is important because in telling this story, which we don’t hear enough; it makes room for so many others to tell their stories too.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write a lot [and] as much as you can. Write like yourself. Write. Write about what puts irresistible smiles on your face. Write about what makes you feel most vulnerable and scared. Write about your dreams, your fears, write about whatever interests you and keeps you captivated. Write. That’s my advice. That and: always respect, honor and follow your instincts. Always.

How can readers discover more about you and you work?
You can buy my book book at www.gum.co/ForSizakele and you can find my work at www.myloveisaverb.com.

 

For Sizakele Performance + Book Release: 14 Years In The Making takes place Thursday, July 30 at Busboys & Poets. For information on the upcoming reading or to purchase tickets click here.