“Writing and storytelling in general… are intoxicating,” says Tochi Onyebuchi on writing and constructing an entire world in his young adult novel Beasts Made of The Night. He states that when choosing names and creating creatures and characters in his novels, he tries to represent those who often don’t see themselves represented in literature. Similarly, with naming parts of the city or area, he considers the way in which meanings can translate across languages. “An example of this is algebra, the discipline which one of his characters loves which originates in the Arabic world ‘al-jabr’ meaning ‘the reunification of broken things.”
The importance of naming characters and beauty of storytelling are sentiments also shared by Nnedi Okorafor, author of Binti. The story centres on an African girl in the far future who applies to the most prestigious university in the galaxy, leaving her family behind on earth to attend the school. Part of the inspiration for writing Binti was her own pain and turmoil moving away from her family in Chicago. “In writing Binti,” she says “I was working through fear.” Okorafor also mentions that growing up in the diaspora, people always found it difficult to pronounce her name, asking repeatedly if she was spelling her own name right. With her work, she wanted to ‘shift that default away from Western names so my characters always had Nigerian names.’
These two works of science fiction and fantasy ‘extrapolate’, allowing readers to get lost in imagined worlds but with specific and direct connections to the deep-rooted traditions in Africa today.