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20 on Sefi Atta


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I never wanted to be a writer; I just had stories I wanted to share so I learnt how to write and kept going. If I could sing or paint, I would.

Sefi Atta

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Early Life Sefi Atta was born in Lagos (Nigeria), in 1964, to a family of five children. Her father Abdul-Aziz Atta, a Muslim and Igbirra, was the Secretary to Federal Government and Head of the Civil Service until his death in 1972, and she was raised by her mother Iyabo Atta, a Christian and Yoruba. In 1974, aged 10, she attended Queen's College, Lagos; between 1978 and 1982, she attended Millfield School, Somerset (England). In 1985, she graduated from Birmingham University and trained as a chartered accountant. Atta began to write while working as a CPA in New York, which birthed her first novel Everything Good Will Come (2005) – which won the inaugural Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa in 2006. 2001, she graduated from the creative writing program at Antioch University, Los Angeles. Her short story collection, Lawless (2008), received the 2009 Noma Award For Publishing in Africa. Her short stories have appeared in journals such as Los Angeles Review, Mississippi Review and World Literature Today. Sefi has won prizes for her short stories from the Zoetrope Short Fiction Contest and the Red Hen Press Short Story Award, and was a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award and the Caine Prize for African Literature. Atta 1 DID YOU KNOW THAT… 1.      Sefi’s first literary award was the 2004 PEN International’s David TK Wong Prize. 2.      Her radio plays were broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation and her stage plays have been performed to a global audience. 3.      Her books have been translated to several languages including French and German. 4.      Her husband, Gboyega Ransome-Kuti, is the son of Olikoye Ransome-Kuti. 5.      Sefi has served as a visiting writer at the Ecole Normale Superieure de Lyon in 2010, Northwestern University in 2008 and the University of Southern Mississippi in 2006. 6.      She was on the jury for the 2010 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. 7.      Sefi’s Lagos-based production company Atta Girl formed “Care to Read”, a program initiated to earn funds for legitimate charities through performance readings, 8.      Sefi has confessed to enjoying writing plays the most; and disliking writing short stories (anymore) because “the process of submitting them depressed me.9.      She has listed Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Albert Camus’ L’Etranger and The Village Headmaster as her early influences. 10.  Sefi only experiences writer’s block when she writes non-fiction. 11.  Her editor came up with the title of her first novel, Everything Good Will Come (2005). 12.  Sefi’s has (presently) lived in Nigeria for 14 years, England – 16 years and the United States for 19 years. 13.  Her paternal grandfather was a traditional ruler, the Atta of the Igbirra people. 14.  She grew up in Ikoyi, Lagos. 15.  Her short story collection, Lawless (2008) has been published in the US and UK under the title “News From Home” (2010). 16.  She trained as a chartered accountant in England, because it was the only way she could get a work permit. 17.   Her first novel “Everything Good Will Come” took 7 years to write. 18.  Her second novel Swallow (2010) and Lawless (aka News From Home) were written between 2002 and 2006; and they were inspired by newspaper articles. 19.  Sefi has written in total 3 novels, 1 short story collection, 5 stage plays, 4 radio plays and 1 screenplay. 20.  Her recent novel is titled A Bit of Difference (2012). swallow Sefi’s presently working on three books; they’ve all been drafted - The Age of Widows, a thoroughly modern Nigerian story; The Bead Collector, said to be controversial and has a strong political content; and The Far Removed. And she’s said that she’d stop writing once all three books have been published. Sefi lives in Mississippi with her husband Gboyega Ransome-Kuti, a medical doctor, and their daughter, Temi.   By Olusola Agbaje

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