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Brittle Paper: A conversation with writer, professor and Duke alum Ainehi Edoro-Glines

<p>Ainehi Edoro-Glines (left) has continued to write and inspire since earning her Ph.D. in English literature at Duke.</p>

Ainehi Edoro-Glines (left) has continued to write and inspire since earning her Ph.D. in English literature at Duke.

Writer and Duke alum Ainehi Edoro-Glines has devoted her career not only to shining a light on African literary culture but also to making her mark on it. Edoro-Glines is the founder of Brittle Paper, an online, award-winning weekly “African literary blog” that was born during her time at Duke. Brittle Paper features a kaleidoscope of African literary expression in the digital space, including fiction, poetry, book reviews and essays. Edoro-Glines’s platform is a “celebration” of the African literary world and the unique magic that emanates from it.  

Following the completion of her Ph.D. in English literature at Duke, Edoro-Glines joined Marquette University’s English faculty as an assistant professor for two years. Much of Edoro-Glines’s academic research and teaching at Marquette focused on global literary fiction and its digital role in social media. She is part of a burgeoning group of innovative African writers who are also thriving in academia, a group which includes  current Duke associate professor of English, Tsitsi Jaji. In 2016, Edoro-Glines was named one of the five most influential Nigerian women by The Guardian.  

Currently, Edoro-Glines serves as assistant professor of Global Black Literatures at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Alongside teaching, she continues to devote her creative energy to Brittle Paper, as well as to her upcoming book — “Forest Imaginaries: How African Novels Think.” A vocal advocate for the literary value of African fiction, Edoro-Glines is committed to changing the way African novels are perceived through a quest for storytelling over social issues. She is unafraid to voice her opinion on the aspects in which the African literary space is wanting.  

Edoro-Glines is also a regular contributor to the online publication Africa Is a Country where she provides her analyses of the trending African film, media and literature. Her individuality and innovativeness have earned her several accolades, the most recent of which was her inclusion in OkayAfrica's 100 Women 2018 List, an annual list of African women “superheroes” who are rewriting what it means to be an African woman. The Chronicle was lucky enough to catch an interview with Edoro-Glines to explore her literary journey, inspiration and future.  

SR: You founded Brittle Paper while working on your Ph.D. in English at Duke.  Were there any experiences at Duke in particular that helped catalyze the idea?  

AEG: I recall Duke University as an inspiring place. When I arrived in 2009, there was an extraordinary community of scholars in the humanities. Achille Mbembe, Sarah Nuttal, Slavoj Zikek and a host of scholars visiting from various parts of the world shared their work and invited graduate students to engage them in debates and conversations. I was taking classes with folks like V. Y. Mudimbe, Frederic Jameson, Ian Baucom, Nancy Armstrong and Fred Moten. Brittle Paper came out of my being immersed in this world of texts, questions and openness to radical thought. 

SR: What has been the most rewarding aspect of working on your upcoming book, “Forest Imaginaries: How African Novels Think”?  The most challenging aspect? 

AEG: The rewarding part is seeing the project evolve into something that is much greater and unexpected. The challenge has to do with the expansive scope of a book project, how it draws you into an ever-expanding world of exploration. 

SR: What is your favorite quote from "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe?  How does it inspire and inform your writing?

AEG: I don’t have a favorite quote. I have a favorite moment. My favorite moment is Okonkwo looking into the fire — after having had a violent blowout with this son —  and wondering if he would ever be a part of his descendants’ future. I love that moment because it gives me this image of the ancestor as a figure of the future, as someone who is perpetually anxious to be part of what is yet to come. I love the idea that my ancestors are actually not in the past, dead, buried and gone but are implicated in my future as well and that of the collective, that dead or alive, we are all in this together. 

SR: 2020, so far, has been an unprecedented year. The level of discussion and recognition of social injustice have taken the front seat.  How has this manifested in your literary work?

AEG: George Floyd protests and, more recently, the #ENDSARS protest in Nigeria — both protests against police brutality— remind me of the importance of the work I do as a digital content creator especially within social media. These events have shown me the importance of building platforms that can lend visibility to causes and also help archive the moment. 

SR: If you could converse with one of your literary inspirations, who would it be?  What is a question you would ask them and why?

AEG: It would have to be Amos Tutuola, the Nigerian fantasist, writing between the 50s and the 80s, who crafted breathtaking fictional worlds out of Yoruba mythology and archive of forms. I would ask Tutuola to tell me more about the queer utopia he writes about in "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts." The story is centered on a community of ghostly creatures reserved for women who were assaulted by their husbands while on earth. When they die and come to this place called “Unnamed Town,” they become androgenous and live together in peace and prosperity. The story is a sliver of Tutuola’s imaginative universe that scholars typically don’t talk about, but I’d love to know more about it. Tutuola was clearly ahead of his time given how African literary discourse has conspired to erase queer experiences from the tradition. But considering how things are changing, how contemporary African literary discourse is creating more spaces for queer expressions, I’d love to know what inspired that particular story.  

SR: You returned to Duke last year to give a talk with the John Hope Franklin Center for Humanities.  How did it feel to come back and talk about your journey?

AEG: Coming back to talk about my journey was inspiring. The night before, I took a long walk through some of my old haunts and felt the power of being in the place where it all started, where the ideas for my book and Brittle Paper were first conceived. I also thought about the friendships and solidarities that made graduate school at Duke so rewarding and memorable.

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