#JayLitSpotlightSeries: Frances Ogamba

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‘Reading to a child is a gift that lasts a lifetime, a gift that keeps on giving long after the book is finished.’ – Yvonne Vera

Frances Ogamba was a recipient of this gift as a child. She was born in Oba, a little town where a child’s first encounter with the neighbouring city, Onitsha, is often through captivating stories. She paints a picture of the Onitsha through her childhood self’s eyes: overworked traders with drooping eyes returning from Onitsha in commercial buses; oodles of farm produce conveyed in and out of the city; the notoriety wielded by Head Bridge and Ochanja market thieves rumoured to rob victims without making contact. 

To Frances, this was the spark that ignited her fascination for writing. The labyrinthine stories made Onitsha seem less like a real place. It was even more exhilarating that this magical city was only a fifteen-minute bus ride away from Oba, where Frances grew up. 

Until she finally visited Onitsha at age 13, her only glimpse of the city was a sliver of the Niger River, a turquoise curl peeking at the horizon from a market gate in Oba. Sadly, in recent years, this sacred view has vanished beneath new buildings. But it was through the fleeting view of the river’s inertness that Frances’ imagination of unseen lands and unknown people took flight. 

As a child of teachers, Frances had access to books which further fueled her love of reading and writing. Her father was an avid reader and a known orator in Akpo, their hometown. Classic books she found memorable in her early years of reading are One Man One Wife by TM Aluko, Isi Akwu Dara N’ala by Tony Ubesie, King Authur and His Knights of His Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Greene, and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. 

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol especially nurtured her fascination with the spooky and supernatural.

Frances studied the French language at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and found a deeper kinship with the 19th and 20th-century works of Honoré de Balzac and Jean-Paul Sartre, and through them, she learned that the complexities of an entire society could fit into the pages of a book. 

Her first widely celebrated short story, “Ghana Boy,” which was shortlisted for the 2019 Writivism Short Story Prize and the 2019 Brittle Paper Awards for Fiction, is a stark portrayal of Nigeria’s controversial police unit, SARS, whose summary executions prompted the #EndSARS protests in the year 2020. 

Frances’ writing undulates between realism and horror. In horror or speculative fiction, she works across fear, regret, and the intricate workings of the human psyche. Her published spec stories like “Under the Sentinel’s Watch,” “Master of Ceremonies,” “Nurse the Children!” and “Love for Ashes” have such interplay. These works also amplify the African culture as a means of reawakening Africa’s memory, which was altered by the effects of transatlantic slavery and colonialism. Social justice is a core theme in her realist writing, where an imperfection in society is either laid bare or, sometimes, even fixed.

In 2024, Frances won the Jacobson Scholarship, the most prestigious award conferred on a scholar by the Hawkinson Foundation. She has also received the Walter H. Judd Travel Grant and COGS Research Grant to support her longer writing projects. Her essay about women who leave home for greener pastures or survival won the 2022 Diana Woods Award for Creative Nonfiction, and her short story focusing on a woman who rebels against her husband’s nonconsensual polygamy won the 2020 Kalahari Short Story Competition. 

Frances is enthusiastic about empowering other African storytellers. She co-founded Idembeka Creative Writing Workshop alongside the talented Kasimma and Mubanga Kalimamukwento. This self-funded initiative offers free writing classes to aspiring authors.

Frances believes that her job as a writer is to counter the hurried and upward-looking nature of the modern world. Her focus is to train a reader’s eyes downward.

Bongiwe T. Maphosa

Bongiwe T. Maphosa

Bongiwe Maphosa is a budding author with a passion for storytelling. With her thought-provoking narratives, she takes her readers on a literary adventure. Bongiwe's works on the human condition from a fresh perspective have earned her recognition and publications in the Avbob Poetry Anthology of 2019, The Writer's Club of South Africa 2021, and JAY Lit in 2021. She hopes to cement her place in the literary community.