IGONI BARRETT: The Metamorphosis of Blackass

Adrian Igonibo Barrett is a Nigerian writer, he was awarded a Chinua Achebe Center Fellowship in 2010 and a Norman Mailer Center Fellowship as well as the Bellagio Centre Residency in 2011. In April 2014, he was named as one of 39 Sub-Haran African writers aged under 40 in the Hay Festival and Rainbow BookClub Africa39 Project celebrating Port Harcourt UNESCO World Book Capital in 2014. He is married to Dutch Journalist and writer Femke van Zeijl.
He published his first book, a collection of short stories – From The Cave Of Rotten Teeth in 2005 and reissued in 2008. “The Phoenix “ a story from the collection won the 2005 BBC World Service short story competition.
His second collection of short stories – Love or something like that was published in 2013 and it was chosen as the best book of 2013 by Flavourwire and NPR. According to Time Out New York review: These rich pieces are also brilliantly sequenced. The harrowing “Love Is Power” is followed by the circuitously told “My Smelling Mouth Problem,” in which the stakes (romantic embarrassment and dental work) are far lower. Shifts in mood happen throughout the book; after the decades-spanning “Godspeed and Perpetua,” Barrett ends with “A Nairobi Story of Comings and Goings,” which traces one man’s arrival in the Kenyan city for “a change of scenery,” and his fluctuating relationship with a South African woman named Leo. Unlikely moments of empathy occur again and again amid wrenching drama and subtle comedy; the resulting collection satisfies on numerous levels.

Black Ass his debut novel was published in 2015 and it has been reviewed in the Financial Times, Guardian, Huffington Post and OkayAfrica.

“From the first sentence, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis confronts you with the inherent strangeness of the pact you make when you read fiction. Gregor Samsa has become an insect, Kafka says. Suspend your disbelief. Take it or leave it. A Igoni Barrett’s first novel — his third book — demands a similar response….to read him only as a Nigerian writer would be to do him a disservice. For Blackass is a strange, compelling novel, and Barrett has something to tell us all.” – Jon Day, Financial Times.

“Blackass is a blunt, transparently written novel — the kind that makes the reader feel as though they’re standing inside the skin of the character, going about his day with him — and though the topic could easily be that of a polemic, it’s also a subtle, circumspect novel about the intersecting, sometimes mutually exclusive needs humans have for family and connection, and for status and power.” – Claire Fallon, Huffington Post.

“The most unapologetically Nigerian book that American publishers have published in a long time, and as the ‘Afropolitan’ has become an increasingly omnipresent strand of contemporary African literature, there has been a steady backlash, both against the Afropolitan as such, and against the entire category of African immigrant literature.” – Aaron Bady, OkayAfrica.

“Igoni Barrett’s greatest asset is his ability to satirise the ridiculous extents people, especially Lagosians, go to in order to appear important. His characters’ every foible is captured and amplified for effect. But his handling of plot is not so masterly; the introduction of Morpheus is one too many transformations. A whole section of the novel, in which Furo’s sister uses Twitter to publicise her search for her missing brother, is written in tweets: it’s clever, but at the end feels pointless and too long. The collision of Furo’s two worlds doesn’t happen until the very end of the novel, and then as a plot device. Furo, who has changed his name to Frank White, is now a bit shallow. The cocktail of Kafka and comedy is slightly off here; something not helped by the preponderance of cliches in the prose. As Wole Soyinka once said about another African writer’s referencing of Kafka: “I prefer my Kafka straight.” – Helon Habila, The Guardian.

Black Ass was longlisted for the inaugural FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Awards.


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