AN: Thank you so much for having this conversation with me. There are a lot I have been meaning to ask you, after the commonwealth prize. ICI: you’re welcome. AN: 1) Nwakego’s mother is amazing in many ways. She is not your everyday protagonist and I am mesmerized at the freshness that comes with her character and the story entirely. I mean, no one has written a story of women going through renunciation ritual because they are tired of motherhood. What inspired this story? Did it drop like an idea, or a build up from events you have witnessed? ICI: The inspiration of this story came from years of observing and listening to the vignettes of stories of the women around me; my mother, my grandmothers, my aunties, my sisters. I was simply echoing their voice in that story. Sort of like an outsider. I have always wanted to tell this story and I am so glad that I did because it resonated with these same women whose stories I replicated on paper. It has also taken on with other readers. So, I'm glad I wrote it. AN: 2) Nwakego’s siblings act coldly towards their mother and it is bothersome. Considering how we see the heroine- a woman who has given all to her husband and children, it felt harsh that Nwakego’s siblings, the twins especially, would adjust to not having a mother easily, even when they know the story behind their mother’s decision. Did you do that on purpose, and if yes, what significance do you want readers to take away from that? ICI: Yes, it was intentional. I wanted to show how men who are not directly subjugating women are complicit because they have chosen to be silent, to look away. I have seen such men, I have been one (and I am desperately trying not to be that person again). I wanted to provoke the men who would read this story that it doesn't stop with us not perpetuating misogyny. No, we must not be silent in the face of the misogyny other men perpetuate. Speak up, take action, upset, dismantle. Silence is always complicit. It reminds me of Bishop Desmond Tutu's famous quote; "If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality." AN: 3) Aristotle, in his infamous Poetics, argued that a writer differs from a historian because while a historian records what has happened, a writer prophecies what would happen. Women are rebelling, no doubt, but none has rebelled like Nwakego’s mother-willingly giving up everything and bringing so much pain to herself because she is tired of the box called motherhood. I like to ask, is there anything prophetic about, “When a Woman Renounces Motherhood?” Do you sometimes think that a time would come, when women would be ready to die to redeem their dignities? ICI: Women have been sacrificing their lives for their dignity for centuries. The time has always been. Women, like every other minority group, have always been vocal, have always lost something; given up a part of themselves to be free. It's callous that we live in a world where women have to give up something precious as their lives to be dignified, to have full agency of themselves. Sometimes, even giving up their lives is not enough. Nwakego and her mother represents the women in my life who have each other's back, who save themselves. I do hope my story incites and provokes more women to rebel, to topple, and dismantle systems and institutions of oppression. AN: 4) Away from the story, being on the commonwealth prize is a massive accomplishment. Any writer who gets to this stage must begin to take writing seriously, more seriously than they use to. So, what does it mean to you? What comes after this victory? ICI: It means so much to me. I have always wanted to win the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Still, now that it's a reality I still don't believe it. I love that it has brought a much needed validation to my work and a licence to be audacious with my work. What next? I'm going to continue what I do; write. AN: 5) what is the one tool in writing that you hold dear or take very seriously? ICI: The one that says you should break all the rules. Do away with them. All of them. If we wanted rules and laws we would have become scientists. I think the beauty of art should be in its boundlessness and freedom. AN: 6) What role do you think the categorization of Commonwealth literature plays in the wider scope of things? ICI: I think it has brought to light writers across the world which is not considered "mainstream". AN: 7) Would you say that Nsukka is one of the wombs that nurtured you as a writer? ICI: Definitely. I am forever grateful to the dusty, "small" town that has continued to nurture writers. The magic of Nsukka, the people, The Writers Community, the biting harmattan will always have an indelible impact on my craft. AN: 8) It could be cliche, but I must say that a lot of writers are aspiring to be the next Chizaram Ilo in subsequent years. What advice do you have for them? What do you think would make their stories stand out? ICI: There is really no formula. Just write the story you want to see win the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. There is no established pattern of "winning stories", I think this is uniqueness of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Write your version of "the winning story". Also, always find joy and light in your craft. If you can't find joy and light in your craft how can your readers find them? I am deeply grateful to have you. Thank you. You're welcome, Ada. I really enjoyed doing this.
Bio:Innocent Chizaram Ilo is Igbo. They live in Lagos, Nigeria, and write to make sense of the world around them.