Selected Publications and Projects
An Orchestra of Minorities. Little, Brown and Company, 2019.
The Fishermen: A Novel. Little, Brown and Company, 2015.
“Midnight Sun.” NewStatesman, 2016.
“Fishermen.” Virginia Quarterly Review, 2011.
“The Road to the Country.” Virginia Quarterly Review, 2015.
“Finding The Light Under The Bushel: How One Writer Came To Love Books.”New York Times, December 2018.
“Life-Saving Optimism: What the West Can Learn From Africa.”The Guardian, July 2018.
“Africa Has Been Failed By Westernisation.”The Guardian, November 2017.
“Èkó ò ní bàjé: The growth of Lagos City.” The Guardian, February 2016.
“Ghosts of My Student Years in Northern Cyprus.” The Guardian, January 2016.
“Teethmarks: The Translator's Dilemma.” Poets and Writers, January/February 2016.
“Audacity of Prose.” The Millions, June 2015.
Awards and Honors
Booker Prize for Fiction - Shortlist
The NAACP Awards for Debut Book - Winner
The Inaugural FT/Oppenheimer Awards - Winner
Man Booker Prize for Fiction - Finalist
The Guardian First Book Award - Finalist
Center for Fiction First Novel Prize - Finalist
Edinburgh Festival First Book Award - Shortlist
The International Dylan Thomas Prize - Longlist
Named one of FP's 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2015
Best book of 2015 Lists:
Library Journal's Best Books 2015
Relevant Magazine's Top 10 Books of 2015
American Library Association's 5 Best Debuts of the Spring
Personal Teaching Statement
I made the decision at the beginning of my teaching career to model my pedagogical practices on teachers and mentors who were most effective in shaping me as a writer and scholar. Though their techniques and approaches were varied, I learned above all to identify a student’s area of strength and to use that knowledge as an inroad into developing other aspects of the student’s creative or intellectual life. This is the central point of my teaching strategy.
Thus, I teach creative writing courses with an eye towards discovering the aesthetic goals of the writer and helping students better master those goals. I stake the presupposition that the best fiction is produced when plot becomes a function of character, and thus direct them to focus on characters first and that once this is achieved, everything else—structure, political commentaries, plot, language, themes—falls into place. To facilitate this goal, I base the courses on the method that best helped my own development as a writer, a method predicated on the principle: Read a hundred books, write one.
I particularly tailor undergraduate writing courses such as the Introduction to Fiction Writing and the Intermediate Fiction Writing courses to meet this principle. Specifically, I divide these courses into two halves: “craft” and “practice.” I devote every class meeting during the first half of the semester to discussing one craft element: characterization, setting, point of view, structure, style, and language. During the craft sessions, I rely on my teaching model of collaborative inquiry, which approaches the study of writing and literature through collective engagement in which I render instruction by facilitating engaged discussions with students. Then, in the second half, students write their original stories and workshop them in the class. In the more advanced courses, I place more emphasis on workshopping students’ work and use that as the main mode of instruction.
Whether in the lower or upper-level creative writing courses, the personalized workshop feedback letter always serves as the backbone of my pedagogical strategy. It provides me the space to consider students’ work on an individual basis and to provide instructions tailored to their specific needs. My approach is strategically three-pronged: 1.) identify areas of strength in students’ work in form of plaudits; 2.) identify areas in need of improvements in form of suggestions on both global matters and craft needs; and 3.) identify areas of weakness at a compositional and mechanical level.
For the literature courses I teach—such as Introduction to 20th Century Fiction, The Short Story, Introduction to African Literature—I facilitate a deeper-level engagement with the texts by discussing a variety of issues that range from reading the texts as social, historical, and biographical documents to discussing literary aspects of the work (style, language, structure, etc.). Since students at undergraduate levels are often more inclined to simply discuss themes, plot, and other basic elements of literary works, I urge them to go deeper by emphasizing—both on the syllabus and during first week of class—that the primary goal of our study is for them to be able to craft “sophisticated and articulate discourses about what they read.” I also encourage them to apply their textual analysis to broader issues such as philosophical questions of humanity, ethics, civics, race, and pop culture, amongst others. I accomplish this by introducing materials from a range of fields from philosophy to visual arts.
I monitor my pedagogical efficiency by adopting a self-evaluation mechanism, the “Backward Design” principle, developed by Wiggins and McTighe (2001). The principle suggests that teachers design courses with the target outcome in mind. To this end, I fill out a self-response questionnaire at the beginning of every course, usually three questions: 1.) What skills and levels of knowledge can I expect from students who register for this class?; 2.) In what ways would they improve on this knowledge/skill set at the end of the course?; and 3.) What are the effective rubrics for achieving this improvement? Using this questionnaire as a guide, I am able to better direct myself not only to maintain stronger focus but also to monitor the overall effectiveness of my pedagogical practices.
I bring this self-evaluative approach to assessing my students’ work. In the creative writing course, I follow their writing over a semester-long continuum in which I track the improvements in their work. I do this by issuing repeated prompts and assignments, and then reading a number of their original stories. Towards the end of the semester, I do a full-week revision seminar. I stress that revision is the actual site in which true writing. I pay attention on the revision pieces, looking closely at the writer’s ability to handle and synthesize multiple feedback, understand their core strengths and harness these, and the potential for growth. For the undergraduate creative writing classes, I give a mid-semester craft exam that tests them on various aspects of craft—characterization, plot, structure, style, conflict amongst others. For the graduate classes, I ask for imitation pieces and annotations on the books we read. Their annotations reflect their approach to reading as writers—a skill I feel is key to developing one’s craft. I make extensive comments on these annotations and imitation pieces, trying as much as I can to refocus—where necessary—their critical gaze on aspects of craft I feel might best meet their most urgent needs.
I seek out mentorship opportunities with students and have done at least one Independent Directed study since the beginning of my second year at the university of Nebraska. To date, I have worked with more than a dozen students on their manuscripts. I am also currently serving on three dissertation committees and two MA committees.
Consistent with my philosophy to discover and harness students’ areas of strengths, I am constantly looking to employ my own writing strategies in my teaching. To this end, I designed and have taught a course on “conceptual fiction”—the kind of fiction based around ideas and concepts.
In summary, I employ strategies that have helped shape me as a writer and scholar as the bulk of my pedagogical approaches. At the heart of this is closely studying each student as a writer-in-the-making (or scholar-in-the-making) and discovering ways to help them shape their voice.