“Inspirations and Influences” is a series of articles in which we invite authors to write guest posts talking about their Inspirations and Influences. In this feature, we invite writers to talk about their new books, older titles, and their writing overall.
Hello everybody! Tomorrow we publish “Running” by Itoro Udofia, the fourth short story in the Awakenings Season. Today, the author is here to talk about the inspirations and influences behind the story!
I dream of a world that dreams me.
Like most Black girls growing up in the 90s (I’m assuming), it was rare to see someone with my life experiences reflected in fiction. In school we read from the usual suspects, Steinbeck, Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, Shakespeare, and Charles Dickens. They weren’t terrible writers. There were invaluable things to learn in terms of plot, craft, and mastery. The issues with constantly reading from these types of writers was one of perspective and value. These old white men were considered the pinnacle of all that was good and true in the world, and my dilemma with this unspoken idea was that my young Black African girl self did not exist within their realm of the good and the true. Thus, the problem.
Introducing works from people of color, let alone Black people, was treated as an addendum to the already stellar work of the founding fathers of American literature. We got Sandra Cisneros, The House on Mango Street, during Hispanic Heritage Month, and Toni Morrison’s, Jazz, during Black History Month. Those are the few writers of color whose stories I remember reading as a young girl, and I clutched to these stories like it was a lifeboat because they gave me a glimpse of something different.
I had predominantly white teachers who were crafty in nurturing their own intimate biases about the habits of people of color through fiction. Case and point. The required reading for my high school political science class was Richard Wright’s Native Son. My teacher wanted her bright eyed students to learn about the mind of a criminal. What better way to do that then to read about the main character, Bigger Thomas, and study his natural tendencies towards criminality? That was one of the few books I had read where the main character was a Black man. When I reflected on this educational experience—about ten years later—I broke down into tears.
I’ve always written, I’ve been scribbling words on paper since I was four and can tell you most of what I wrote as a kid was rubbish because I was writing with no aim or intention. But as I got older and began to articulate these contradictions I felt as a girl in high school, I picked up the pen to write a world where someone like me could exist with dignity. Reading the works of Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Ama Ata Aidoo, Nella Larsen, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Amy Tan, Edwidge Danticat, Zora Neale Hurston, Isabel Allende, W.E.B. Du Bois, let me know that there are worlds within worlds to explore. In order for us to know these worlds and figure out the conversations we need to have, those of us on the margins must have the audacity to create in any way we can. The erasure of us is real, and in our creation we can find a way to make a world that includes all of us, in our full complexity and ordinary-ness. At least this is the intention with which I approach writing. My stories tend to have elements of the speculative and magical in them, as well as themes of familial relationships, identity, African-ness within a U.S. context, and gender. I’m very concerned with how people deal with difference and complexity, and I do think this propels me to write with a sense of immediacy because right now we need even more stories that gives our humanity back to us.
My story Running comes out of this urgency to create. The main character is trying to find her place within a world where she constantly fantasizes about escaping because she feels invisible. She lives within the rigid world of her family, which is a world filled with survival and denial. Then, she must grapple with the world of the ancestor spirit she meets. The ancestor’s world is more mysterious and alluring, yet the main character finds tension in this world because the spirit is invested in her own limiting beliefs about how life should work. So the main character, Arit, is on a search for a world that has space for how she chooses to show up in it, and in many ways she’s running away from these worlds to find her own truth. The lesson for Arit, is the same lesson I had to learn as a young girl coming of age hoping to find some space for herself: You can’t run forever, and one day you’re gonna have to make sense of how these worlds come together. Even if you choose to let pieces of your life go.
About the Author: Itoro Udofia
Itoro Udofia is a writer, performing artist, cultural worker, and educator based in Oakland, CA. She loves to tell stories that showcase strong female protagonists defying social conventions. As a first generation Nigerian writer, writing in this way is a liberating and healing process. You can find her work in Slice Magazine, Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism, and the anthology Two Countries: US Daughters and Sons of Immigrant Parents published by Red Hen Press. She has received an Honorable mention from the Speculative Literature Foundation and recently, she won third place for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award for her story, To the Children Growing Up in the Aftermath of their Parents War. She is a SPACE on Ryder farm 2018 finalist and has received residencies and fellowships from the Vermont Studio Center, San Francisco Writers Grotto, Edward Albee Foundation, RADAR Productions, Summer Literary Seminars (SLS) and New York Foundation for the Arts.
How to Get the Story
Running will be published officially on August 28, 2018. You can purchase the DRM-free ebook (EPUB, MOBI) that contains the story as well as an essay from the author available for purchase on all major ebook retail sites and directly from us.
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