Author Helen Oyeyemi on the Politics—or Not—of Writing Black Female Characters
In Helen Oyeyemi’s new short story collection, “What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours,” keys aren’t always, well, the key. We spoke to the 31-year-old fiction writer about the book, her nomadic lifestyle, and whether she considers her work political.
The Ibadan-born, London-raised, Prague-inclined fiction writer Helen Oyeyemi is currently living in Lexington, Kentucky, a city that greeted her January arrival with an ice storm. (“Quite unnerving.”) Oyeyemi, whose sixth work of fiction and first book of short stories, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, was published by Riverhead this month, is in town for a residency at the University of Kentucky. Oyeyemi is notoriously nomadic—she spent her 20s going from European capital to European capital, looking for a city she “could be in a relationship with”—and I expected the dreamy yet very much cosmopolitan author to be a little out of her depth in Appalachia.
But the dreaminess she brings to her fiction, which draws from a variety of mythological traditions, seems to carry into her life as well. “I find it quite hard for the place I’m physically in to make a dent on my mind,” she told me over the phone. “It might actually be because I read so much that I’m already in other places, so it’s just a difficulty in even knowing where I am at any given time.”
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