Ezioma Kalu is the feature of the third edition of our Stars of The Spotlight editorial. Kalu is a Nigerian writing prodigy from Abia state. Born into a family of 4, Ezioma attended the prestigious University of Nigeria, Nsuka (UNN) in the coal city of Enugu, where she was born and bred. She graduated from UNN with a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration. Following the release of her compilation work “Weird Obsession and Other Stories,” we sat down to have a brief question-and-answer session with her.
Tell us a bit about your family background, upbringing, and the things that defined your childhood.
Well, my family is just that simple, but very loving and the united type. The type that allows you to be yourself. The type where laughter rings out at will, and stories are being shared. The type where your voice is heard and opinions matter. The type where values and norms are being respected to the core. Growing up as the only girl in the midst of three older brothers is an experience, I wouldn’t trade for anything. At a tender age, I was allowed to be myself, to be that teeny weeny inquisitive angel, who demanded answers for virtually every question that existed in her little brain. I was curious about so many things, and I made sure to ask questions. And was I clarified at the end! Oh yes! My dad (of blessed memory) was my best friend. He encouraged me to be the best version of myself. He listened to me, even when I made no sense. He never for once denied me listening ears, whenever I saw the need to go on a rambling binge. Never shut me out or hushed me, the times I forced him to be a spectator to my usual series of endless prates and prattles. My parents and siblings encouraged me to create changes in the world around me. They helped me find my voice, they listened to all my stories without being judgmental. I found a safe space within my family, one where I could talk about myself and the world around me, one where my little wins were always celebrated like I won an Oscar, one where I was free to be, to live, to read, to tell stories. My childhood was filled with stories, stories and more stories.
What was it like, during those formative years from your childhood?
I started reading at the age of five, and I read every single storybook I came across. I read ‘Dizzy Angel’ by Gracy Osifo when I was in elementary school, and I can still narrate the story perfectly now, even though it’s been eons I read that. I loved reading Shakespeare while growing up, even though the grammar was a bit nebulous for me at the time. But my immediate older brother was always there for me, to explain words that proved difficult to grasp. ‘Julius Caesar’ is my favorite. I’ve always been passionate about telling stories. I would curl beside the table at night and listen to my grandmother tell tales upon tales about the animal kingdom. And the next day in school, I’d churn out the entire contents, lisp- for- lisp to all my classmates and they enjoyed it. I’ve always loved reading and writing stories. I have a whole library of untold stories stack in the northwest part of my brain, and most of them were my imaginations from childhood.
How would you describe your personality?
I am a strong-willed young lady, who derives joy in accepting challenges. I’d describe myself as a goal-getter, with dreams of changing the world, one story at a time. I find it difficult to give up, once I set my mind on achieving a particular feat. I’m easy going though, very easy going. I love to believe time always makes the change.
What inspires you to write?
My immediate environment really. I’m Igbo, an African. I love to tell simple, everyday stories in a fascinating way. I love to tell the African story, and maybe change the myopic narrative people have about Africa. I love to write about that simple high school girl who is being sexually abused by the male figures in her life, and who is scared to speak up because of our judgmental society. I love to write about that young boy, who is battling depression, because life isn’t as rosy as he envisioned it to be. About that mother, who suddenly becomes bipolar, because of life struggles and pains. That young lady, who achieves her dreams, despite living in a third world country, inspires me to write and keep writing. That young boy, who didn’t give up on his musical career, who stood tall against all odds, and who wriggled out of fear and put himself in the spotlight, is my greatest inspiration.
Apart from writing, are there other skills that you take on?
I love teaching. If I wasn’t a Writer, I’d be teaching. A high school teacher. I’ve been a teacher once, and I really enjoyed every bit of the journey. I love to teach, to impact knowledge on young people, to make them believe in themselves, in their dreams. I totally love speaking to people.
Who and what is your biggest inspiration?
My father. Thinking about how proud he’d be of me right now, makes me want to grab a pen and paper and scribble words down.
What informs your stories?
Life in Nigeria. Then there’s the issue of mental health. I feel like mental health is the most neglected aspect of our lives in this part of the world. So many people have a lot of misconceptions about mental health problems, and I’d love to erase those wrong notions. I have a project in the works, the main character is mentally unstable. I’d love for the world to see life through the eyes of a mentally ill human. I’d love to correct the impression people have about mentally ill individuals and to teach everyone that it is really okay to not be okay.
What makes you and your works stand out?
I think that would be my style and simplicity. I just let my stories flow in a manner that everyone can relate to and understand.
Who are your favourite authors?
Chimamanda Adichie, Chinua Achebe (of blessed memory), Gracy Osifo, Abi Dare, William Shakespeare (of blessed memory), Ifeanyi Aneke, John Grisham, and Sidney Sheldon.
What is/are your favourite book(s)?
Americanah by Chimamanda Adichie, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, Dizzy Angel by Gracy Osifo, The Girl With The Louding Voice by Abi Dare, Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare, Mysteries of Benson Street by Ifeanyi Aneke, The Street Lawyer by John Grisham and Tell Me Your Dreams by Sidney Sheldon.
Are there authors you look forward to collaborating with one day?
Yes. Chimamanda Adichie. She is a great source of inspiration for me.
Where do you see yourself and your writing career in the next five years?
I see myself as one of the biggest ‘under thirty’ writers in Africa.
Weird Obsession and Other Stories by Ezioma Kalu is a compilation of 5 stories; Weird Obsession, What Happened to Uru?, The Promising Young Man in His Crime, Sweet Sour Love, and Breaking Free. The stories center on the complexities of the five different characters as they navigate life. The book is available for preview and purchase on the Rakuten Kobo store.
But that’s not all Kalu has been up to in recent times, she is also credited as a contributor to Writer Space Africa’s (Nigeria chapter) recently released anthology of short stories titled Rebirth. Her featured title Unoaku is a two-part story which touches on the life of a comatose patient and the realities of a woman married to a cheating husband, but things soon take a deeper twist when the husband decides to lie with her mother. You can catch Rebirth here.