Jekwu Anyaegbuna is a Nigerian writer. He won the 2012 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for Africa and the 2015 fiction fellowship of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation for Creative Writing in Bulgaria. His fiction and poetry have been published in several literary journals including Granta, Prairie Schooner, Transition, The Massachusetts Review,among many others. He is currently enrolled in the MA Creative Writing Prose Fiction of the University of East Anglia, Norwich, England, where he is a recipient of the Miles Morland Foundation African Scholarship.
Jekwu spoke to the Enkare Editorial team about his short story, Little Entertainment Centres.
When I first read “Little Entertainment Centres” I was admittedly in shock. The story deals with so many sensitive subjects at once that I was initially overwhelmed. Tell us a little about your process making this story, and what it meant both for your craft, and personally to complete and share it. Which writers/thinkers informed your process? To whom would you compare your style?
First off, I condemn pedophilia in its entirety. It is an awful attraction to possess. This story is expository fiction meant to unravel the modus operandi of pedophiles in our society, so that people would know and be watchful. The story is fiction, fiction, fiction, not a nonfiction essay. It is an imagined reality. The protagonist has a warped brain, extremely disgusting in its entirety. I was also shocked writing him, but I felt he had to be written.
There has been lots of hush-hush discussions around the subject of pedophilia. It exists in every community, and this provides good material for fiction. I started to think actively about tackling this subject way back in 2017. I listened to conversations around the subject, observing the society, imagining a way to craft the story. I wanted it to be laced with emotional truth that would deliver an emotional punch. It was a very difficult story to write.
Chinua Achebe said, “Writing gives a headache, not a prescription.” I strongly believe in that. Good writing comes with risks. Maybe this story has taken too many risks. When I completed it, I was somehow reluctant to share it, afraid because of the many sensitive issues explored. But I said to myself, “Oh, it’s just a made-up story that mirrors our society exactly; people would read it and understand what it is trying to expose.” However, I imagined it would offend a little because of its obvious inflammatory content.
In terms of style, mine is not static. I believe that every story I intend to write should dictate its own style to me. Sometimes, I want economy of words, sometimes I want to be verbose, and at other times I want to experiment with the two. I love imagery, sculpting vivid pictures with words. I worship simple fiction with simple words. I have a comic vision. I hate censoring my writing as long as it feels true.
I admire a lot of writers, and the list is endless. I cannot list them all here. I adore good writing.
Always a layered question for writers, but what further insight could you provide on your intentions for this story. Is its stark shock value deliberate? Say more about the protagonist, Wilson, and the choice to write from this perspective.
The first risk the story took was its first-person point of view. Here, there is no distancing effect between the author and the story. A reader may imagine that, by using “I”, the writer is writing about himself or herself. As writers, we constantly travel to live in bodies that do not belong to us. That body might be very uncomfortable, yet we still approach it nonetheless, and inhabit it until we are done. Wilson was uncomfortable for me, but I managed to inhabit his offensive interiority through his appalling diaries—his dreams and aspirations as a character. I wanted to be subtle with my depictions of his evil activities but felt I should heighten them a little so that the reader could understand. Of course, I understand the tropes of subtlety and care. Perhaps this is writing that shows, and shows too much.
Readers should approach the story knowing that Wilson has psychological issues, even psychiatric ones. The story is strictly about him. Throughout the story, the narrative focus is on him, not on his helpless victims. He is not normal, yes, but many people behave that way, and I had to portray that. He is seeking validation and acceptance, which he would never get. All the characters in the story find him absurd, rejecting him—his father, mother, Aunty (who represent straight people) and of course the LGBTQIA+ community. I tried to balance out this story, but maybe the effect and tool of my balancing are not noticed. I am a writer. I have a responsibility to portray my world the way I see it. We have a lot of Wilson’s living among us. Writers should be encouraged to tackle difficult subjects, no matter how uncomfortable.
How would you respond to critiques about your work not only depicting, but also replicating and enacting violence, particularly against children, women, and LGBTQIA+ people?
I love a peaceful world where everyone matters. Any form of discrimination or violence, no matter how nuanced, should be stamped out completely. I never intended to enact violence against any section of our world. It is the unintended consequences of arts and creativity that have led to this insinuation. Any entity that harms children, women and LGBTQIA+ people have committed a grievous crime. In fact, nobody should be harmed at all. I wanted this story to be read and interpreted as a piece of art. Maybe it has imagined and exposed too much, and this makes people uncomfortable.
Tied to above, when the main character Wilson makes one of his diary entries, he expresses that pedophilia should be included in the LGBTQIA+ community— a sentiment that in many societies feeds into the idea of queerness as sexual deviance. Do you believe your writing has a political function? Were you conscious about the impact such association would have, given the frequently fatal consequences such stereotypes pose for queer folks?
It is absolutely disgusting to compare homosexuality to pedophilia because they are not the same. Never! Pedophilia is a disease, as mentioned at the beginning of the story, but homosexuality is love between willing, consenting adults. This unnecessary comparison comes from homophobic people, and they are everywhere. But this story is never about comparing homosexuality to pedophilia. Maybe that aspect of the story does not shine enough through the writing. Maybe I should have stated it explicitly through dialogue or some other creative means, but I felt it could be inferred by the reader.
I love writing through symbols a lot. Towards the ending of the story, we see Sophia and her son. Sophia represents straight people while his son represents gay people. Wilson tries to have sex with either of them but fails, insisting on his abominable urge on children. I wrote that section to show that pedophilia represents a different, repulsive entity that should not be allowed to thrive.
As you know we included this story in our inclusivity edition, in what ways do you think this story should be heard or interacted with?
I believe prose fiction, first and foremost, captures the human experience, real and imagined. I believe the purpose of literary genre is to tell the story, and the genre owes the human race the responsibility of presenting the various experiences. Whether or not a story justifies a behavior or tendency is another matter entirely. I have no intention to justify pedophilia, and I don’t think I did this in my story in any way. In any case, to justify pedophilia was not the reason I wrote the story; it was to expose the evils of pedophilia and maybe start conversations around it.
Readers misunderstood an aspect of your editorial that says, “We take sides.” Perhaps you should issue a statement to explain what that means.