UNCC professor is prolific writer

Nigeria native sees an abundance of topics in the world

01/25/2013 12:00 AM

01/24/2013 2:15 PM

Tanure Ojaide’s cramped office overflows with books, so much so that two of his shelves have buckled and fallen, the unstacked remains lying on either side of his desk.

Among the hardcovers and paperbacks are several that bear his name.

One of UNC Charlotte’s most prolific writers, Ojaide, professor of Africana Studies, has written 17 collections of poems, three nonfiction works, three collections of short stories, four novels, and seven books of literary criticism. Four of those were released in 2012.

For Ojaide, 64, that’s just scratching the surface of what’s to come. He has four other works set to be released in the early part of 2013.

“We all have a passion for something in life, and for me, it’s writing,” he said. “There’s so much to write about in life, you know? There’s so much to write about.”

His works reveal the world through an African’s eyes. Born in Nigeria, Ojaide came to the United States to finish his education.

At Syracuse University, where he studied creative writing and later earned his Ph.D. in English, Ojaide saw his first snowflake. Even though the lake effect snow common for the region would dump not inches but feet of the powder at once, it never shocked him.

“I think I was raised in a way that I don’t have any shock. I expect things to be different,” he said. “The world is so diverse.”

Ojaide was raised by his grandmother in the Niger Delta, a farming community that brimmed with creeks and streams.

“You cannot live in such a place and not have a zest for all living things,” he said.

The fourth son, he was the only one to survive birth. To ward off superstitions, his father told the villagers he was a girl at first.

Stories like that, which he heard later on, helped to shape him.

“When you have a passion to be a writer, somehow everything prepares you for that goal.”

Ojaide was set to attend college in England, but a Native American writer who came to speak to his class at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria had an impact on the young writer.

“When he talked about Syracuse, it looked so fascinating, I changed my mind,” he said. “I decided to come to Syracuse.”

For years, Ojaide had grown up hearing stories about the United States. It was a magical place where everyone was wealthy and lived like Hollywood stars.

“But when you come here and live the reality, when you live in a place that’s been so hyped for you, as if it were Heaven, you realize you have to struggle, too.”

Ojaide, who is married and has five children, has lived in the United States since the late 1980s and moved to Charlotte in 1990.

There are still plenty of stories to be told here. “Everything in life you see inspires a poem, inspires a short story. We touch people as human beings, no matter where we live,” said Ojaide.

“When you watch people, that itself is a story unfolding.”

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