Nigerian author, satirist and lawyer Elnathan John’s debut novel, Born on a Tuesday, follows the life of an almajiri – those in Nigeria who, as children, are sent to Islamic schools to study. The novel’s protagonist, Dantala, whose name literally translates to “Born on a Tuesday” is one such almajiri and in tracing his story, John shines a light on the growing influence of radical Islam in northern Nigeria and its appeal to young men. Shortlisted for Africa’s largest literary award, Born on a Tuesday was a resounding success and you can hear more about it at its launch on September 12 at 6pm at Berliner Festspiele.
Describe your first memory of writing…
My first memory of writing creatively was in the third year of high school, when my class was asked to write a sonnet, almost as punishment, by a grumpy English teacher who had no interest in teaching the class.
The three Ws: Where, When, Why do you write?
Where: I find myself scribbling in the toilet at home, other times in cafes, in the public library, but I spend most of my time pretending to work in my home office.
When: I write at all times of day except when the sun is high in the sky, or when it is too cold – in those cases I like to lie in bed and sleep. The most ideal time is between midnight and 4am, when the world is asleep.
Why: Because I’d be empty without it. Also, because I am a full time writer, and the alcohol won’t pay for itself.
How do you get started?
Each piece of writing determines how I begin. A lot of times, I begin with the last sentence of a paragraph. This, especially for short prose is the sentence or paragraph that often comes as close to fully formed as possible. It is the journey there that takes time.
Worst praise/favourite criticism about your work?
Worst praise: “Good read”/“Informative”.
Favourite criticism: Silence.
Books and politics: what should the connection be? What makes writers good/bad activists?
Some of us do not have the luxury of an option in this regard. Even the personal is political. And as Singh said, “[a] story is never just a story.”
Your favourite literary character. Why?
Leah in Peter Abraham’s Mine Boy. And unforgettable character with the largest heart ever.
A book you wish you had written…
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri.
Best recent read…
The Sellout by Paul Beatty.
Choose an epitaph…
Who said I intend to die?
A question you wish we’d asked…
What’s your address so we can send you some whiskey?
Berlin: the first thing that comes to mind?