Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah is the author of the new story collection Friday Black. His work has appeared in publications including Guernica and Breakwater Review. He lives in Syracuse, New York.
Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in Friday Black, and how did you decide on the order in which to place them in the collection?
A: At this point the oldest story in the collection is maybe about six years old. But the timing is hard to pin down because each of the stories have a life and growth of their own. I like to say it’s taken me 27 years to write this book. (That’s my age.)
I’m very particular about the ordering and sequencing. I like to think of the first story as the one I’d want people to read if they only read one thing. Also it’s kind of like if you can ride this ride, you can ride the rest of these.
Then I try to watch the ebb and flow of the book all the way through. Thinking about how pieces are in conversation with each other and what it would be like to read them as a newcomer in order.
Q: You've noted, "I like to use humor to highlight the absurdity of cruelty." What do you see as the right balance between the difficult topics you tackle in the stories and the humor you employ?
A: Each story has a different balance. And also, I think each issue, based on my personal identity grants or denies me a different level of access to be able to even attempt to find that balance. I try to honor the stories as best I can within themselves and within my ability. There’s no formula.
Q: How was the book's title (also the title of one of the stories) chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: The book originally had a different title and it was changed after some strong suggestion that I’ve come to appreciate. Friday Black was suggested by my agent and I think it works because that inversion of what is familiar speaks to a lot of the work of the book. I also think that the way consumerism and the perils of capitalism are so often revisited the title works. Also, it sounds cool.
Q: You've said that although the worlds you create in your stories differ widely, there are common themes that run through them. What would you say unites the stories?
A: I think that in all the different stories my characters are beginning to ask important questions of the world and the systems around them. They are approaching an awareness that makes them somehow different. They are sensitive, meaning they can see and sense perceptively the pain of others and themselves, in various worlds that are pretty brutal and they are trying to figure out how to survive.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: Top secret novel.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I am grateful for the chance to answer these. Thank you very much.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb