“I think about my father a lot. And how the scarab beetle, the sign of rebirth, landed on me moments before my father’s life was taken. And how it multiplied” (Nnedi Okorafor, The Shadow Speaker). This small excerpt from Okorafor’s sophomore novel is just one of many metaphors and ideas encapsulated in the symbol of an insect throughout her work. Where one might see a terrifying or disgusting creature, Okorafor sees beauty and possibility – but from where did this fascination with the earth’s smallest and most underappreciated inhabitants arise? The obvious answer lies in Okorafor’s apparent fascination with entomology, or the study of insects. According to her blog, a career in entomology was, in fact, an aspiration of Okorafor’s growing up. While the world is thankful that she found her niche as an author, Okorafor has clearly never given up on her love of insects.
This fascination, however, cannot simply be attributed to an interest in entomology. The insect symbolism that pervades Okorafor’s work is only a single component of the attention she gives to nature as a whole. Her debut novel, Zahrah the Windseeker is praised by Kirkus Reviews for its “exotic flaura and fauna.” Okorafor is not shy about her connection to the natural world around her – from wildlife to foliage – and she uses it to enrich her writing with vivid and intoxicating description, as well as intriguing symbolism, connecting the reader’s mind to the environment. Is it Okorafor’s deep Nigerian roots that have connected her so profoundly to nature, is it a part of the culture she hopes to share with her readers, or is there something else about the author that clings to the wonders of the wild? These questions, perhaps, can only be answered by the author herself.
– submitted by Joe Archer
An Evening with Nnedi Okorafor is part of the Despres Family Memorial Lecture Series. It takes place February 26, 2014 at Blackstone Library, 4904 S. Lake Park Ave. at 6:30 pm.