Friday, August 12, 2022

Q&A with Morowa Yejidé



Morowa Yejidé is the author of the novel Creatures of Passage, now available in paperback. She also has written the novel Time of the Locust. She is based in the Washington, D.C., area.


Q: What inspired you to write Creatures of Passage, and how did you create your character Nephthys?


A: I wanted to write the kind of story that I wanted to read — a story about Washington apart from the monolithic view of it being the seat of government. And I wanted to breathe life into the vibrancy of a city where people have lived out their lives for generations.


My family came to Anacostia, a neighborhood in the southeast quadrant, from the south in the early 1900s. Nephthys is inspired by my grandmother who was among the first black female cab drivers in the city, one of three. I wondered what it must have been like to drive through the twists and turns of an era, about the people who got into her car, and what impacted their lives.


Q: How was the novel’s title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: There’s a double meaning in what I named the book. The title echoes the Middle Passage and down through the ages to the continued perilous journey of African Americans as they navigate America in modern times.


The title also alludes to migratory birds, or birds of passage. We humans, we “creatures,” also migrate the world — through lives and eras and time, from one generation to the next.


Q: The Washington Post review of the book, by Martha Anne Toll, says, in part, “Creatures of Passage is that rare novel that dispenses ancestral wisdom and literary virtuosity in equal measure.” What do you think of that description?

A: I love storytelling that functions on multiple levels — literal, spiritual, historical, fantastical — and this is the type of layering I was doing with this novel. To me, there is never one way to look at the lives of the characters and the situations they find themselves in. Rather, those lives and circumstances are a culmination of a multitude of things over time.


So this is a story where there is no line between the ancient and the present, the living and the dead, or the real and the imaginary. I felt I was putting all those things together and inviting the reader to go on an odyssey. But I wanted to tell it in a way that shares the great contradictions of this city through gritty realities and folklore.


Q: The book, which begins in 1977, is set in a version of Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood. How did you create this version of D.C., and can you say more about the balance between history and fiction in the book?


A: I wanted to explore a story that bears witness to how Washingtonians, particularly black Washingtonians, have tried to find ways to own their place in life, to make a way, to make D.C. home.


I wanted to show the unique and rarely portrayed southeast Washington — but through the lens of a counter-topography that challenges preconceived notions about the nation’s capital. Magical realism gave me that lens. It’s a world of striking contradictions. Beauty and horror. Bold strokes of the fantastic and the real.


But the story is also informed by historical details that add context and richness as well as how the city looked and felt in the summer days of my own youth —a timeless place of terror and wonder and mystical sites filled with people capable of almost anything.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: Well, that’s classified! But I am exploring telling my stories in other mediums, not just novels.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I don’t believe that a “writing life” exists. There seems to be much romance and fantasy assigned to writing – along with a set of rules and lifestyle that, somehow, we writers are all supposed to be aspiring to. But it’s really just me and the blank screen. It’s just my life and how writing fits into it.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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