Georgetown welcomed Arinze Ifeakandu, author of God’s Children Are Little Broken Things (2022), to campus as part of the Faith and Culture Series. An emerging master of the short story in contemporary fiction, Ifeakandu has been awarded a Dylan Thomas Prize, an O. Henry Prize, and is a Kirkus and LAMBDA Award finalist.
He joined Berkley Center Senior Fellow Paul Elie for an October 18 discussion of fiction, faith, and sexuality.
Shaping Identity Through Literary Exploration
Born in Kano, Nigeria, in 1995, Ifeakandu was raised a Christian and self-identified as queer from a young age. This intertwining of faith and sexuality coincided with the beginning of his literary life at the age of 10 years old.
Ifeakandu described how he would scribble plays and stories during secondary school and share them with family, peers, and other community members from his local church. He then marked a specific turning point in both his personal and literary lives when he wrote his first queer story when he was around 13 years old.
Coming back to today, Elie identified difference as a striking part of God’s Children Are Little Broken Things, observing how the queer experience figures into most of its stories in a way that is fluid and not programmatic.
In the process of developing stories of sensuality and sexuality with such affectionate characters, Ifeakandu admitted he had to learn how to handle feedback on both a professional and personal level.
“I’ve always sought to preserve that space from which I create, which allows me to enjoy the process of creation because then I’m creating what I truly want, the way I want to create it.”
Whether it’s the mode of storytelling or the subject matter, “I’ve always written toward that place of utter enjoyment,” said Ifeakandu.
Command of Voice
Ifeakandu attributes much of his growth as a writer to the time he spent refining his craft at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He shared how his mentors helped him break out of a pattern of stylistic censorship and learn how to convey details without restraint.
One of Ifeakandu’s defining authorial traits is his command of narrative voice, especially his distinctive and clever use of second and third person throughout most of the stories in the collection.
Elie brought attention to the titular story as the only one that employs a second person point of view, a tactic which he thinks helps to break down barriers between the reader and the page.
“I thought how ingenious it was to put the reader so definitely into the point of view of a queer character.”
Similarly, Ifeakandu said that using the third person perspective gave him a sort of “freedom on the page.” From a craft perspective, the lyrical qualities of this form of language allowed him to explore the idea of an intimate voice with a less intimate structure.
Bridging Faith and Fiction
Another important, but perhaps not as conspicuous, element of God’s Children Are Little Broken Things is the role of faith. Ifeakandu recalled how his editor broached the subject with him after noticing how the characters in the stories do not really attend services at church.
He chose to be cautious in his approach, explaining that “religious encounters are not always that beautiful. There are times when it’s sort of traumatic.” Though he does not necessarily practice public religion, he still finds faith and spirituality valuable coping mechanisms for anxiety.
Translating this posture into his writing, Ifeakandu wanted religion to be in the atmosphere of the stories. He accomplishes this by putting his characters in scenes doing things that are meaningful and intimate to them. For instance, Elie highlighted a particularly moving image from one of the stories of a musician praying in front of his keyboard.
Through developing these emotionally deep characters and situations, Ifeakandu affirmed how he seeks to inspire hope in the title of his collection.
“It’s the very idea that they are God’s children, even in spite of the things they’ve been through and what society has told them about themselves. It’s a certain kind of reclaiming of ownership.”