Chika Unigwe is the Bonderman Assistant Professor of the Practice of Literary Arts. She has lived and worked in Nigeria, Belgium, and the United States and speaks English, Dutch, and her mother tongue Igbo. At Brown, she is teaching two courses. The first course, Discomfort, focuses on rethinking the way we look at narrative, inviting us to leave our comfort zones and explore fiction that pushes boundaries (in every sense: plot, structure, language, theme). The second course, Enchantment of Re-Imagining, focuses on evaluating the role that re-imagination of the past has in offering an alternative view of the present and the future. When not teaching or writing, she loves reading and admits to a love for shopping shoes, coats, and fedoras. Below is a more comprehensive look into the life of Prof. Chika Unigwe.
Interview by Daniel Murage and Photos by Victor Alvarez
Where are you from?
My home country is Nigeria, and my foster homes are Belgium and the USA. I lived in Belgium for twenty years and only recently moved to the USA two years ago, where I live in Atlanta now.
Why did you decide to teach in the US and Brown?
Brown has a very good reputation, and I got an opportunity to teach here for this academic year, so I took it.
How did living in the US differ from expectations you had? What did you find most difficult/easiest to get used to?
The segregation in society – the economic disparity and all the racial issues happening in the USA are frustrating. On the other hand, the dialogue that happens around such issues is good, and the fact that there are people and institutions that address issues that arise is hopeful.
How do you define good teaching?
Willingness to learn from students. I think that, especially for creative writing, you have to be willing to learn from your students just as much as you are willing to share what you know.
What is a food or dish you miss from home?
Not any; I love plantains, and I can usually get the them fried at the Thai restaurant at the mall. Plus, there is a Nigerian restaurant in Boston that I can drive to whenever I miss food from home — it takes about 30 minutes to get there.
What’s an Americanism you’ve picked up, if any?
Awesome. It’s a word that I now use when I am not very attentive in a conversation. The American use of superlatives reduces the effect that words are supposed to have, and I have slowly picked up this aspect of American language use.
Has living in the US changed your relationship to/perspective of your home country/culture?
It has given me an objective criticism and sentimentalism towards Nigeria. It’s strange that these two can coincide together, but somehow they do when you are away from home.
Where do you see yourself in the future? Any big plans?
I will definitely be going back to writing.