Sefi Atta is a busy woman. We should know. She’s either flying to Paris to give a lecture, or flying to Lagos to sit on a panel, or she is working on a new play, or her new book, or she’s home being a wife and a mother helping her college-bound daughter write her essays. Oh by the way, who thinks mummy doesn’t know anything about writing.
Sefi has just published her new novel, a bit of difference, and we got a chance to sit with her to talk about it.
What is the most important thing about your new book, A Bit of Difference, that you will like our readers to know?
I am not Deola. Readers thought I was Enitan in my debut novel Everything Good. I got so many questions about infertility. I was told off by an academic for not taking care of my husband’s guests. A friend accused me of basing the character of Sheri on her, even though we didn’t know each other as children. A Nigerian interviewer I had never seen before told me he was sure I had a crush on him. I guess he thought I’d based the character of Mike on him. The reactions were so intrusive it put me off writing about Ikoyi women. I may have grown up in Ikoyi, and I may be familiar with the environment and the community, but my narratives are made up.
(Ikoyi is a posh area in Lagos, Nigeria. The Nigerian government would house their senior staff in Ikoyi and Victoria Island, another posh area.)
Why that title?
The novel is a profile on Deola. It is about the different expectations people put on her because she is an African woman. She also questions the validity of international charities, such as the one she works for. She wonders how much difference they make in Africa.
Why this story?
It’s the story of Nigerians of my generation, especially those who went overseas to work in the 1980s and 1990s. I worked in England for a while before I moved to the United States.
Nigerians love gossip or gist—as we call it. We gist about everyone, including our presidents. You can’t fully understand Nigeria without gossip. Everything Good had gossip about Ikoyi, Lagos, in particular. As I said, after that novel I felt I needed to get away from setting stories in Ikoyi for a while. I wrote about other Nigerians in Swallow and News from Home until I was ready to return. A Bit of Difference has all the latest gossip on Ikoyi, Lagos, Nigeria and Nigerian communities abroad.
Of all your books, what’s your most favorite? Why?
I appreciate all of them for different reasons. Everything Good is my most heartfelt, Swallow is my most whimsical and News from Home is my most muscular. A Bit of Difference is thoroughly modern.
What else would you like our readers to know about you?
I started off writing plays. My first stage play The Engagement was produced in 2005, when my debut novel Everything Good was published. A film based on my play—not my novel, as was reported—is in development. It will be produced by Ego Boyo and directed by Akin Omotoso.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on my American novels now. One novel is about an American woman in Nigeria and the other is about a Nigerian man in America. I’m in the right place to have a long pause before my next novels come out, so I’m working very slowly.