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Ben Okri Shares His Thoughts on Writing and the State of Nigeria with Percy Zvomuya

Dangerous LoveBen Okri was recently in South Africa to deliver the Steve Biko Lecture at the University of Cape Town. Percy Zvomuya from the Mail & Guardian and Neo Maditla from Daily News have written about Okri’s first trip to the country and his lecture on Biko.

Okri spoke to Zvomuya about the double challenge of writing in the wake of an older generation of African writers as well as the context of current Western literature. He also shared his thoughts on Boko Haram, a Nigerian Islamic militant group, saying that it is “the greatest danger we have faced in 50 years”.

Maditla wrote about Okri’s decision to visit South Africa for the Biko Lecture after turning down other invitations. Okri referenced South Africa’s complex past and said that “the way in which one enters the country, the land, is very important”. He said that this invitation felt “magical”.

Ben Okri was born left-handed and was forced, as was the custom in those days, to become right-handed. As Okri wrote the book that would be published under the title The Famished Road, which won the Booker prize in 1991, his right hand gave in.

“When I was writing The Famished Road, which was very long, I got repetitive stress syndrome. My right wrist collapsed, so I started using my left hand,” he said in a 1993 interview with the Independent.

Ben Okri is a celebrated author and poet who has won numerous literary awards, including a Booker Prize for Fiction for his 1991 novel, “The Famished Road”. But until last week, the Nigerian writer had never set foot in South Africa, despite numerous invitations.

On Wednesday, he described his visit as “almost a spiritual pleasure”.

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