In 2006, after the publication of his first two stories, E. C. Osondu came to Boston to read for AGNI, the magazine I edit with Sven Birkerts. He didn’t have a driver’s license then and wasn’t ready so early in his time in the United States to jump on a bus and make the trip solo. But his friend, the novelist Daniel Torday—they were both graduate students at the time—offered to play chauffeur, and thus it was that we all met at a dinner before the reading. In the years since, E. C. and I have road-tripped, bar-hopped, camped overnight on a friend’s floor, visited each other’s digs, and talked endlessly, as friends do. Also since then, E. C. has won the Caine Prize for African Writing and published two books that I deeply admire, the story collection Voice of America and the novel This House Is Not for Sale. Our conversations led us, in 2009, to dream up and co-edit the AGNI Portfolio of African Fiction. And this year, hoping to put all our gabbing to use again, we wondered what would happen if we placed a recorder between us. This exchange took place in my apartment in Brookline, Massachusetts, punctuated by the pouring of red wine.
From The Critical Flame:
E. C. Osondu: I think I’ll start by telling the story of AGNI and how we met. I left advertising in Nigeria for the MFA program at Syracuse. The internet was just starting then, so I knew a little bit about literary magazines, but I was very naive when I was sending out stuff. I didn’t know how it worked. I’d sent a story to AGNI that was rejected, but it had a note from Sven, saying, “Send us another piece.” In my advertising thinking, my hustler thinking, I thought if it said send us another piece that meant by return mail, send another piece immediately. So that’s what I did! When he wrote that note, I said, Oh, that means he’s saying send it before I forget, before the ink dries on this note. So I sent “A Letter from Home,” which you guys liked and it was taken.
WP: And that was your first published story.
ECO: First published story. And it was huge. Here I was, in the program, I think it was my second year. Here I was here in the United States, and I’d sent out a piece and it had been accepted. So that was really huge. Some of those things seem like a dream when I think back on them…