Writer Francesca Ekwuyasi speaks about depicting the full range of human experiences

An open book

On Oct. 5, Nigerian-Canadian writer Francesca Ekwuyasi visited the Canadian Writers in Person series at York to talk about her novel, Butter Honey Pig Bread. York University teaching assistant Dana Patrascu-Kingsley sent the following report to YFile.

Cover of Butter Honey Pig Bread
Cover of Butter Honey Pig Bread

Ekwuyasi was born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, and is an immigrant to Canada. “Most of my stories are informed by my Africanness, my Blackness, my immigrant experience and my queerness,” she said.

The author said she wanted to tell a variety of queer stories. “It was really important to me to have multiple queer narratives because every queer African narrative that I’d read or written prior to this was really centred on rejection from faith and rejection from family, which is just one story. But there are many others,” said Ekwuyasi. “So, it was really important to me that one of the characters who is queer doesn’t replay that narrative. I wanted something different. But I also didn’t want to ignore the reality for many people of faith and people of colour, which is one of not being accepted, so it was important to me to tell that story as well.”

Ekwuyasi pursues artistically the things that she finds personally interesting, and the full range of human experiences is something that she is involved in exploring. “The experiences that I’ve had in my life teach me that death is a fact of life, losing someone is a fact of life, pain is a fact of life,” said Ekwuyasi. “But none of these things define the totality of life more than anything else – more than pleasure, love and ambition. I am generally interested in writing full, relatable humans, which for me means people who experience pain, but that doesn’t become their whole identity.”

As an immigrant who came to Canada voluntarily, Ekwuyasi is aware of the implied expectation that she not complain about being here, about the winters and the loneliness. She thinks, though, that the loneliness and disappointment and pain of diasporic people are a part of their experience, and so they are worth exploring.

Ekwuyasi said that she is deeply aware of being a settler on Indigenous land, and she brings that into her writing as well. “As a human being who’s trying to find meaning and find my place as a person with intersecting identities, some of which are marginalized in North America and around the world, I don’t think you can separate struggle. My identities are intersecting in a way where I’m both oppressor and oppressed,” she said.

Ekwuyasi’s Butter Honey Pig Bread explores family relationships, mental illness, love, queerness and food, introducing us to compelling characters who are a testament to the complexity of human experience.