Uche Okonkwo’s first degree is a B.A. in Education/English from the University of Port Harcourt. After NYSC, she did a bit of volunteering, and then returned to Kachifo Limited, where she had briefly interned earlier. In 2012 she went back to school to study for an MA in Creative Writing at University of Manchester. In 2014, she returned to Kachifo, where she is now managing editor.
CN: What other work experience do you have?
I’ve been writing and editing virtually all of my working life. I began working at Kachifo Limited as an intern in 2009 and have been there, on and off, up until now. I’m currently the managing editor.
In my brief periods away from Kachifo I kept working freelance as a writer and editor. For a few months in 2014, I also worked part time as a writer, editor and social media manager at Arthouse Contemporary.
CN: What are your primary responsibilities at Kachifo?
My primary responsibilities include writing, editing, acquisition of titles (along with the company’s management), administrative work, managing the editorial department and our freelancers, and managing relations with authors.
CN: What do you consider to be the best career decision you’ve ever made?
I’d have to say it’s choosing to build a career in an area that I love and am good at. I’m also looking forward to exploring other possibilities within this field I’ve chosen.
CN: What do you like most about your job?
The best thing, for me, is the satisfaction that comes from seeing a book through from manuscript to the printed page, and knowing that I played a significant part in that. Having grown up experiencing the magic of books, I like being able to be behind the scenes as one who works in publishing. And then I also get the chance to be in the scene as well, as a writer whose work has been published in print. It’s like a double privilege.
CN: What do you like least about it?
I hate that we’re not always able to publish as many books or authors as we would like, for various reasons. And this is why it’s a good thing to have many publishers (and I don’t mean educational publishers) in the Nigerian literary space.
Another problem is the killer business climate in Nigeria and the peculiar difficulties that Nigerian publishers face just trying to break even.
CN: What are the most important skills and qualities an aspiring editor should cultivate?
I think critical reading – being able to read beyond the surface – is a very important skill for an editor. Being able to put into words what you think a text is lacking, or what it does well, is also crucial in helping editors think through their work and communicate with the writers they work with. Then there’s also the ability to give honest feedback with grace. It’s something I still struggle with myself.
Discernment is one other thing – perhaps not quite a ‘skill’ – that I think an editor should have, especially as a freelancer where you have complete control over who you choose to work with. What I mean is that as an editor, not every book or project will be right for you. Or you might not be right for every project that comes your way. If you’re trying to build a certain reputation it might serve you better to turn down some projects, perhaps based on the demands the client is making, or based on your own knowledge of yourself.
CN: Who are your role models?
The editing genius that is Ellah Wakatama Allfrey. I’ve never met or worked with her, but I hope to someday.
Chimamanda Adichie, for her courage and the inspiration that she is.
CN: Which books have really made a difference in the way you think and live?
Let’s just say these are some books that I love and that have made a strong impression: Kintu by Jennifer Makumbi, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, Tenth of December by George Saunders. It’s a long list but I’ll stop here.