Scotiabank Giller Prize Spotlight: Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia

September 20, 2021

Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia’s novel, The Son of The House has been longlisted for the 2021 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Cheluchi Onyemelukwe-Onuobia is a lawyer, academic, and writer. She holds a doctorate in law from Dalhousie University and works in the areas of health, gender, and violence against women and children. Cheluchi divides her time between Lagos and Halifax.

What/who inspires you to write?

I am inspired by life and what it means to be human in the world. There are so many different people with so many different ways in which life happens to them and how they choose to engage with life, each with a story worth telling. Stories let us realize that we are unique and bring something different to the world, and yet that at bottom we are human. Which is why it moves me to see how my story of women in Igboland in a certain time and place resonates with people across the world.

Where is your favourite place to write?

I don’t have a favourite place to write, I write anywhere I can, but I find quiet places easier to write and daydream in.

Is there an activity you do to help inspire your writing?

I read books I admire by authors I love, and I seek new stories and books. I am inspired by writing, by language, I find.

Do you have a tradition for every time you finish a book?

I write ‘The End’ (even if that doesn’t end up in what gets submitted, and even if as it often turns out it isn’t really the end!). And then, I give myself permission to take the day off from anything remotely related to work and writing!

What are you reading now?

I am re-reading Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as my joyful place in the midst of life’s stresses. I am also reading a public health law text.

What is your favorite CanLit book?

Rohinton Mistry’s books, in particular, A Fine Balance. I also enjoy the poetry of Michael Ondaatje’s writing in many works, especially Running in the Family.

What would your job be if you weren’t an author?

I am also a lawyer and teacher. And, as I enjoy these two areas, I would probably still be doing these. I am thinking of adding music to the mix (cue laughter).

How did you know you wanted to be an author?

Rewriting stories that I had read as a child of six and seven, and having that longing all through the years, even when I veered off into other careers and lives.

What inspired you to write your Scotiabank Giller Prize-nominated book?

A direct inspiration was growing up with the kinds of women who people my book and, finding to my surprise, as an adult, that I still live with some of the challenges that inspired these books. I am also inspired by the power of storytelling, its ability to entertain while challenging and interrogating norms, ways of being and acting, and its power to shine a light on what it means to be human. This was at the back of my mind as I wrote The Son of the House, telling a story first and letting the story be a strong carrier for the themes I wanted to explore.

What do you hope readers take away from your book?

The strength of women across all cultures, across time, in different manifestations, but also the need to make life easier, more equal, so that the need for resilience and bravery, is not quite so blatant in a world where there is already much to bear.

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