Interview with Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, Author of O2 Arena

o2 arena

“O2 Arena”, a novelette by Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki, was published in Galaxy’s Edge Magazine in 2021 and is a finalist for the British Science Fiction Award.

We got a chance to talk with Oghenechovwe about “O2 Arena”, his ambitions as a writer and editor, as well as what he has planned for the future!

If you would like to read “O2 Arena”, you can do so here. Please also consider nominating it for the Nebula and Hugo Awards!

IP: The world of “O2 Arena” takes place in 2030, not so far off from our own time and place. Is this grim future a warning or a prediction for the next 10 years?

ODE: It’s both a warning and a prediction. “O2 Arena” is not exactly a wild sci fi story. There’s no terraforming on Mars, the elements in “O2 Arena” are things we live with daily.

There are people dying of all these illnesses because of capitalism and a lack of a system that cares for the people’s health. Instead, companies focus on how much money they can take from the African continent. There’s capitalism on toxic levels, and neo-colonizing loan firms that are offering money to the continent at rates that are exploitative.

70% of what’s in “O2 Arena” are already happening and 20% is on the same trajectory if we do nothing. The remaining 10% is a little out of the way, the hope that things can get better.

So “O2 Arena” is both a warning and a prediction of what will happen if we don’t move from current path. The underground O2 arena is where you have to fight for your right to breathe, taking that right from someone else. That’s the endgame of toxic capitalism.

It’s a very close reality that could actualize itself if we don’t do anything about it. 

IP: I know that you’ve been working on a lot of projects as an editor, including the upcoming anthology Africa Risen. For you, how is being an editor different than being a writer, and which do you prefer doing more?

ODE: They serve different purposes, but I’ll say that writing is definitely my first love. I always wanted to be a writer and tell stories. It just so happens that editing is a part of writing that you cannot escape, especially when you come from certain demographics. When you come from an underrepresented group, writing without editing is like trying to have a child without a partner.

There’s not enough representation for black people, especially for Africans on the continent, that it becomes a necessity to embark on projects like editing and publishing. Editing is like an appendage. Both are like the seed and the flower, or flower and the branch; they depend on each other.

Like I said, writing is my first love, but editing is just as important to me. My writing might not have survived without my editing. For example, my biggest writing project, my novella Ife-Iyoku, Tale of Imadeyunuagbon, I had to publish it myself in an anthology that I co-edited.

IP: Did you start out as a writer and move into editing, or have those two things always lived together?

ODE: I definitely started out as a writer, but my writing was coming along really slowly. Editing was a way to fast-track that.

My first collaboration was the Dominion anthology, and Zelda Knight reached out to me asking if I wanted to contribute a piece or be a co-editor. I said I wanted to do both, because I saw the advantage of having both a writing credit and an editing credit.

From there, I leapt into many different projects in writing, editing, and publishing. Like I said, they all go together like seed and flower.

IP: Your work has gained a lot of attention, what with the Otherwise Award, BSFA, and others. For you as a writer, what was your biggest achievement?

ODE: People talk about achieving their dreams, but I think for me, the biggest flex is that a lot of the things I’ve done, I never dared to dream of. They aren’t things that I thought were feasible, or even possible.

You dream about getting a good job, buying a nice car and a house. You don’t dream about winning a Nebula award, you know?

But I guess for me, my biggest achievement is to be on the same platform with some of the people whose work I grew up reading. While other kids were out playing football, I was reading.

I’m not crazy about Michael Jackson or Halle Berry; I’m crazy about Patrick Rothfuss, GRRM, Brandon Sanderson. Those are people that I’ve gotten to be on the platform with, and I’ve gotten to interact with them on a personal level. I’ve been able to share my views on art, writing, editing, and craft with them and take part in an intellectual conversation with them.

I was on a panel with Patrick Rothfuss, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s the most impressive thing I’ve achieved. Rothfuss was one of the most important authors at a point in my life, and I spent a long time living off his writing—reading and dreaming.

And these people were so far away. They’re far away for the average American, so you can imagine how far away they are for somebody in Nigeria. For me, it was like meeting Michael Jackson.

IP: What happens next? You’ve achieved these things you never imagined were possible, so what’s next for you?

ODE: Well, now I’ve started dreaming, and I have some ambitions. I want to reinvent pop culture and center it around Black and African narratives. The world has suppressed Blackness and African-ness for a long time, while still using its resources to build and boost its own cultures.

I want to give us our rightful place in art and history. There was slavery, colonization, and we know that a lot of the resources from the continent have built things around the world. Our art is still hanging in museums in Germany and Britain. It’s only fair that we have a place in the current pop and entertainment structures.

African artists should have a place and a chance to benefit off the systems that were built using their blood and the resources of their ancestors.

That’s my dream.

IP: That’s very inspiring, I certainly hope it comes true. Speaking of the futures, what kind of projects are you working on currently?

ODE: I’m working on everything. I’m writing a novel. I’m pitching a novella and a novella series. I have editing projects currently underway. Africa Risen is coming out later this year, I have an editing project I’m working on with the editor of Galaxy’s Edge.

I have several awards, ceremonies, and events planned for this year. Plus, I have a publishing imprint in the works.

Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki’s novelette “O2 Arena” was nominated for the Nebula Awards this year. It is the first novelette by an African writer—diaspora or continental—to be nominated for the award. It’s also eligible for the Hugo Award for Best Novelette. 

“O2 Arena” is also Galaxy’s Edge’s first nomination for a Nebula award in this category. 

To learn more about Oghenechovwe Donald Ekpeki’s writing and editing projects, please visit his website!

A big thanks goes out to Oghenechovwe for sitting down for this chat!

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