Emeka Egbuonu: ‘It’s the strength of women that keeps communities together’
08:00 26 January 2017
Emeka Egbuonu’s third book is a novel about sisterhood. He talks to Zoe Paskett about getting into the mindset of the women in his life
It hasn’t yet been two years since Emeka Egbuonu published his last book, but he is about to put out his third – all before the age of 30. But as a writer, public speaker, college lecturer and youth worker with The Crib, he’s used to being busy.
Up until now, Emeka has been following the mantra of “write what you know”, and with great success – his last two books, Consequences: Breaking the Negative Cycle and Ambitions of the Deprived have been widely praised.
His latest book, though, is a step away from the familiar. My Sister’s Pain tells the story of two Nigerian sisters, Adaora and Nkechi and, while inspired by the relationship of his two younger sisters, this made it difficult for him to draw from his own experiences.
“I was out of my comfort zone,” he says, “so I spoke to my editor and asked her how the world would receive something like this written by a man. She said that a lot of women write from a man’s perspective and you just have to do your due diligence and research to make it as authentic as possible.”
He then dedicated his time to speaking to a number of different women in depth about their lives, listening to them speaking about “friendship, things that make them laugh, make them sad, depression, careers and ambitions, injustice they might have had to fight, whether in the workplace, whether racially. Their motivations and how they live every day.
“Everybody’s mindset is different, so I tried to understand all of those intricacies that will help make my characters more authentic.”
The book revolves around the theme of sisterhood. Emeka had the idea while watching his two young sisters playing and wondered how their relationship would develop through adolescence and adulthood. Through the book, he wants to “portray positive images for my young sisters, for my daughter and for my students.
“I’ve had a lot of great women in my life who’ve helped put me on the path I’m on now,” he adds. “At any period in history, no matter what the atrocity is, it’s always women and the strength of women that keep communities together and keeps families together.”
But he is clear that this theme of sisterhood doesn’t exclusively apply to blood relations. Having noticed the strong bonds that formed when he went to talk at Holloway women’s prison, he wanted to explore the idea in terms of friendship too.
“They have to find a support network in order to survive,” he says. “That’s based on people uplifting each other to help each other see out their sentences.”
For the launch of My Sister’s Pain, Emeka is joined at the Hackney Empire by a collection of women he admires including guest speaker and singer Jamelia, the Voice finalist Christina Matovu, spoken word poet MC Angel and dance group Egwu Oganiru.
“I want to bring people together and I want to empower people. I want to inspire and I want the people at this event to help inspire others.”
He adds that the Hackney Empire “has significance because I’m from Hackney and I walked past the venue on my commute to school, never thinking that I might be able to hold an event here, and now I’m at the launch of my third book.”
The launch of My Sister’s Pain takes place on February 10 at the Hackney Empire. Tickets are £10 in advance, £12.50 on the door. Visit hackneyempire.co.uk for a full line up.