Your first collection of short stories, Dark Neighbourhood (Fitzcarraldo, 2021), is very much about the contemporary moment. Issues of displacement and accelerating change run throughout it. It’s a brilliantly unsettling book. What effect were you hoping the stories would have on their readers?
I hope that the readers will be able to rest in the ambiguity of the stories, and not jump too quickly towards identifying what the imagery, scenarios or occurrences, are referring to. And of course, I want them to be enjoyed, whatever that might mean, to be disturbing, haunting and unsettling as you say.
What do you think might be the role of writers in the Anthropocene?
I can say what I think the role of writers should be, which is to bring about a presence in people. To amplify the presence which is at the core of every person when, and hopefully after, they come into contact with your work. This is the role of any artist. To cut through the illusions we in our culture have created for ourselves, most urgently those illusions that convince us that we do not already have enough, which forms the core of our environmental crisis, and that turn others into enemies.
Is there a specific thought or idea that motivates you into taking action over the climate and ecological emergency? (or, if you like, what frightens you most about the crisis?)
My greatest concern is the suffering it can bring about. Displacement and conflict we are already seeing. We have seen a lot of this over the last few centuries of course. I do believe that the world we’re seeing is a manifestation of the inner state, so what is more urgently required is a kind of inaction. To go within, to the root of our wanting, this ‘not enough’, and to pull it up.
What is the most powerful piece of writing you have read about the climate and ecological emergency?
I think Eckhart Tolle put it quite plainly when he said in A New Earth:
‘A significant portion of the earth’s population will soon recognize, if they haven’t already done so, that humanity is now faced with a stark choice: Evolve or die.’
Do you have a vision for a regenerative future? Does literature have a part to play in creating this future?
Literature has a part in it yes, in so far that it is art, and art allows us to create presence and connectivity with that deepest part of ourselves, and thus the deepest part of everyone else. It is impersonal. Art has helped me to realise this, and reminds me of this. So it can serve as a reminder of this for others too I imagine. I don’t have a vision for the future as such, because it doesn’t really matter, being connected to oneself right now is what matters. The future will then be created out of this, and will be all the better for it.
Vanessa Onwuemezi is a writer and poet living in London. She is the winner of The White Review short story prize 2019 and her work has appeared in literary and art magazines including Granta, frieze and Prototype. Her debut short story collection, Dark Neighbourhood, was published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, UK, in October, 2021.
The Samaritans echo the lessons learned in A New Earth, by Eckhart Tolle. The Samaritans provides a listening service where people can go without fear of judgement, going some way to alleviating alienation from the self, promoting self acceptance, and ultimately, allowing us to access that peace within. You can make a donation here.