A lot of critics say zombie stories have been overdone. How would you respond to that?
While there are a lot of zombie stories out there, I think there are still many new things that can be brought into the genre. Most of what’s currently available seems to draw from the same premise. However, as a fan of the genre, I’ve always been curious of how cultures around the world imagine the undead. There are a lot of possibilities out there.
What made you decide to format your story as sections associated with the rules?
Shortly before I started writing this story, there was a viral message being forwarded via WhatsApp. I believe the message originated here in Nigeria, but I’ve heard that it has made rounds in other countries, too. It was a set of rules advising women on how to be good and “godly” wives. This list was really long, and several points in it were backed by Bible verses. These rules perfectly highlighted some of the pressure women face in Nigeria, so I decided to borrow some of them to tell this story. That said, the number in the title is arbitrary.
In your story, the zombie character is a combination of an “Americanized” zombie and the traditional zonbi of Haitian lore. What inspired you to include both elements? What elements did you ultimately reject?
My first introduction to zombies were the Americanized ones in movies like Romero’s Living Dead series. I really wanted to write a zombie story, but at the same time didn’t want to write a cliché, so I spent a lot of time reading about the origin of zombies. The Haitian zonbi elements are largely inspired by Zora Neale Hurston’s book Tell My Horse. I was also looking at stories from Nigerian traditions where people are brought back from the dead by powerful magic. I just didn’t want this story to be typical.
In addition to folk magic, this story examines gender and marriage roles, as well as the stigma of divorce. What experiences from your childhood have had the most impact on your work?
From the time I was a teenager, I would have aunties and older women praying for my marriage. It was also expected that I do the same. At weddings they would say, “We’ll be at yours too.” implying that my own wedding will surely take place. This pressure increases with each year as I grow older and remain unmarried. This story was me channeling my frustrations at the way Nigerian society promotes heteronormative marriages and the expectations placed on women.
The zombie theme blends in because sometimes it feels like the pressure to marry is a disease. You see women who are in unhappy marriages asking, “When will we receive our invitation?” It’s like everyone has caught a marriage bug that persists even when people are married to monsters.
Where can we find more of your work? What do we have to look forward to?
You can find more of my work on Omenana, Expound Magazine, AfroSF Science Fiction by Africa Writers, and Queer Africa 2. If you’re curious about the lives of lesbian, bisexual and trans women in Nigeria, She Called Me Woman is a collection of true stories edited by Chitra Nagarajan, Azeenarh Mohammed, and me.
My fantasy novelette about interdimensional travel and girls wrestling will be in the next issue of FIYAH magazine. You can keep up with my work on my website, rafeeataliyu.com.
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