Irenosen Okojie at St Hilda’s College

Voices Across Borders

The Blog of the Race and Resistance Research Programme at TORCH

Posted by: Tessa Roynon

Date:  2nd March 2016

Irenosen Okojie at St Hilda’s College

On Wednesday 24th February 2016, as part of the St Hilda’s Gender Equality Festival, the London-based writer Irenosen Okojie gave a reading from her acclaimed debut novel, Butterfly Fish (2015).

Butterfly Fish tells the story of Joy, a young woman who (in the dustjacket’s words) ‘struggles to pull the threads of her life back together’ after her mother’s death. She receives as an inheritance from her mother ‘a huge sum of money, her grandfather’s diary and a unique brass warrior’s head from the ancient kingdom of Benin’.

The author read aloud from a section close to the novel’s beginning, entitled (in Nigerian pidgin) ‘Monkey Dey Work Bamboo Dey Chop’. She went on to discuss and to answer questions about the book’s magical realist form, its movement between different times and places, and the central themes of inheritance and legacy.

Okojie explained that her choice of the setting of ancient Benin was in part motivated by her wish to represent West Africa in terms that predated European colonialism and transatlantic slavery. Of the way the novel is written, she said, ‘I like experimental writing. I like writing that takes risks, and that’s what I want to continue to do in my work’. She also spoke of the under-representation of BME writers, editors, agents and publishers in the British literary scene.

Butterfly Fish is published by Jacaranda ( ), a new independent publishing house founded by Valerie Brandes. In its own words, Jacaranda aims ‘to represent the cultural and ethnic diversity and heritage that can be found in London, with a particular interest in works related to Africa, the Caribbean, and the experiences of those peoples in the Diaspora’. It seeks ‘provocative, inspirational writing that shines a light on issues affecting ethnic minorities, women, and young people, and tackles contemporary social issues’. It believes that ‘a wealth of unheard, under-represented voices exist globally and are ready to be discovered’.

Irenosen Okojie’s short story collection, Speak Gigantular, will be published in June of this year.

She will be returning to Oxford on 16th May to talk again about Butterfly Fish, this time at the TORCH Fiction and Human Rights event, ‘Beyond the Bildungsroman?: Creating Free Agents Today’ (

Tessa Roynon is a teaching and research fellow at the Rothermere American Institute. She is currently working on Ralph Ellison’s recently-published manuscript, Three Days Before the Shooting …, and is the editor of the Voices Across Borders blog.


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