‘Under the Awning’ by Melatu Uche Okorie

Family reunification brought Didi from Africa to Ireland to join her mother and siblings. She feels alienated from her environment, from her family, from her own expectations. Everything tells her she does not fit. Her aunt describes how, in her daughter’s school, “all the children’s pictures were put up on the wall with their countries of origin written above it and how the children with non-national parents had their parents’ countries of origin.”

Didi buys a diary, begins to write, joins a writing class, where, when it is her turn to read, her words do not fit either. Her classmates critique her writing from their perspectives of discomfort: she is told that writing in the second person makes the character “hard to care about”, that the story is “bleak and negative” and told by someone “full of hatred and self-loathing.” 

Irish people are used to being hailed for their welcomes, and Okorie’s story superbly skewers that accepted wisdom. It is a necessary reminder that it is high time we stopped clinging to our smug old ideas of ourselves and recognised that, too often, those outstretched hands are designed to keep people at a remove – you are welcome, yes, but only ever as an outsider. 

First published in This Hostel Life, Skein Press, 2018. Anthologised in The Art of the Glimpse, Head of Zeus, 2020)

‘This Hostel Life’ by Melatu Uche Okorie

This title piece from a three-story collection is by former asylum seeker Melatu Uche Okorie, originally from Nigeria but now living in Ireland where she is doing a PhD in creative writing. It tells of the experience of the controversial direct provision system with a clear voice and gift for voicing her characters. Irish writing is still very much lacking in diversity and this collection offers a perspective on Ireland and Irish people we have not seen in fiction before.

In my last hostel dey give you provision any day, but it’s gonna be one month since you collect last. So if you get toilet paper today, it’s gonna be one month before you get another. Dat is why me I happy when dey give me every week for here, now, me I don feel happy again. Dis direct provision business is all the same, you see, because even if you collect provision for every week or you collect for every month, it is still somebody dat is give you the provision. Nothing is better than when you decide something for yourself.

First published in This Hostel Life by Skein Press, 2018. Also available from Virago, 2019