Nnedi Okorafor on Who Fears Death

Nnedi Okorafor, author of Who Fears Death, has a lengthy post on reactions she received during and after writing the novel in The Witch Strikes Back. Here’s an excerpt:

In my novel, Who Fears Death, there is a scene where some girls are…cut. In this future world, the mythos behind the practice has been forgotten but a girl is still expected to have the cliterectomy done. If it is not done, then the girl is not considered marriageable. Still, no girl is forced. It is her choice to have it done. ;-). Clean medical tools are used and the girls receive proper medical care afterwards. In other words, in this African future, girls do not die from this practice as they do today. The scene strips the practice down to exactly what it is.

Back in the early stages of this novel, I workshopped this scene in my novel writing class during my PhD program. My class was all white, from what I recall. After reading it, two women became particularly upset with me. During the critque, I sat there quiet as they accused me of defending female genital cutting. I guess they wanted me to demonize the culture and shout “Barbaric! Barbaric people! Look at what they are doing to their girls and women!” Over the years, the circumcision scene in Who Fears Death has not changed much. So now here I am being accused of the opposite, publically disrespecting traditional African culture.

2 thoughts on “Nnedi Okorafor on Who Fears Death

  1. But in the above fragment the writer specifically indicates that she does not describe a forced practice. Freedom of choice is, I think, something that must endure.

    I have not read the novel and I have no idea how real the freedom of choice is in its setting. In many instances, freedom of choice is simply a theory. Where I live, for example, it is illegal to force religion on someone. However, little babies are baptized immediately after birth, without being allowed to have a choice on the matter. Recently, a bay was drowned by the priest during the baptism. Other babies get sick from being thrown in cold water then hoisted up in the chill and damp church air. All of this happening without consent. Then, in school, again it is illegal to force the study of religion. However, the religion classes are mandatory… because “people around here are like that.” So your freedom of choice becomes, you either do as we do, or you’re a pariah. This is just an example similar to the one in the novel, but when you really want to see fake “freedom of choice” just look at how women’s rights are effectively ignored in what accounts for “the civilized society.”

    So, it is all a matter of how hypocritical the described society is with its “freedom of choice.”

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