Nnedi Okorafor’s jail visit inspired her new novel
On the night it was announced that her book Who Fears Death, a post- apocalyptic tale set in Sudan, had taken the 2011 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel, Nnedi Okorafor wasn’t at the ceremony. “I was visiting one of my students in Chicago’s Cook County Jail after he’d done something very stupid,” recalls the writer and academic. “That evening, I saw with my own eyes the phenomenon I had known for a long time – all those young black men rotting behind bars.”
The stories that Okorafor had been working on found a new focus and her new novel, Who Fears Death prequel The Book Of Phoenix, began to coalesce. In part, the novel is the story behind “The Great Book”, “a corrupted religious text” that features in Who Fears Death.
It also takes in further topics: the way tales twist and change as they’re passed down the years by word of mouth; genetic engineering (“I started writing about a man who could walk through walls and another who could eat glass, and I realised that these magical properties were created by science”); and a Manhattan jail, Tower 7. “After [ visiting my student], I started really seeing what Tower 7 was,” says Okorafor.
The Book Of Phoenix is published on 7 May.
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