Chika Unigwe Talks On Black Sisters Street

There is no denying the great talent that is Chika Unigwe. Writer of critically acclaimed On Black Sisters Street, Chika Unigwe is a Nigerian Belgian Novelist with an impressive resume including winner of the BBC Short Story Competition in 2004, and the 2012 Nigerian Prize for Literature for On Black Sisters Street. Below she discusses her literary beginnings and the daring inspiration behind On Black Sisters Street. Interview originally published on Drumtide Magazine in 2010.

Did you always want to be a Writer? 

I think when people say that writers are born, they are right to some extent. I always wanted to be a writer and I could not think of becoming anything else. Getting published was a fulfillment of that desire. I had plan B of course. I got a PhD in Literature so I could always fall back on teaching at the very least.

As a Nigerian/African Writer based in Belgium, do you feel a sense of limitation in terms of how you choose to express yourself in your work or not?

No. Geographical space does not limit me as a writer. What it might do is color my experiences, and influence the stories that I am bursting to tell. I was obsessed for a while about telling immigrant stories.

Congratulations on the success of your second novel On Black Sisters Street which explores the experiences of African female prostitutes in Europe. What made you decide to explore this theme in your work?

Moving from a culture like Nigeria where prostitution is very underground , and sex is not in the public discourse, to Belgium where prostitution is legal, and one sees the "girls" behind their "showcases" waiting for customers, was a huge cultural shock. When I discovered that a great number of the African prostitutes in Antwerpwere were Nigerian, particularly Edo girls, I was intrigued, but also curious about their stories. I wrote it to answer my own questions.

Now, I read for research you actually moved around Antwerp (which I understand to be a seedy district) dressed in a mini-skirt inorder to mingle and interact with the prostitutes there. What was that experience like? Were you ever nervous?

Of course I was nervous! I spoke to the prostitutes who worked from behind the "showcases", but I mostly went to a cafe out of which illegal prostitutes operated. They were nice. On the background I had my husband who is almost 2m tall.  

In your research, what was the most surprising thing you discovered along the way? 

Empathy for the women. I hadn't expected it, but I am glad it came. It made the writing a lot less judgmental than it would otherwise have been (I am Catholic tradition), and made me tell their stories much more truthfully.

What is next for you in terms of your literary career?

I have just sold a new novel, Sin Eater , which will be out next year. I am working on a new novel.

Thank you!

You are welcome. Thank you for the interest.

By Ebele Chizea

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