Interview: Nadifa Mohamed

The Brief


Nadifa Mohamed is a novelist and short story writer. Her first book, Black Mamba Boy, was inspired by her father’s childhood travels across Africa in the 1930s. It won the 2010 Betty Trask Prize, was shortlisted for the Guardian First Book Award, and was longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. Her follow-up, The Orchard of Lost Souls, is set on the eve of the Somali Civil War. It was met with similar acclaim, winning the Somerset Maugham Prize. Mohamed is currently working on her third novel, to be published in 2018.

Which book would you recommend to our readers?
Banjo by Claude McKay is a foundational text for me, and McKay a real model in terms of the documentary yet poetic style of his writing.

Which film would you recommend to our readers?
, directed by Mohsen Makhmalbaf. It’s a strange, folkloric film that looks at life in the Qashqai tribe with both love and honesty.

Which musician would you recommend to our readers?
Aar Maanta. His music fuses Somali qaraami with funk – I just love his sound.

Which photography series would you recommend to our readers?
Bert Hardy’s photography from Tiger Bay captures a world that doesn’t exist anymore and you can see that some of his subjects were having fun with him.

Which stage work would you recommend to our readers?
The Hounding of David Oluwale, directed by Oladipo Agboluaje, adapted from Kester Aspden’s book of the same name. Harrowing yet lively and beautiful.


The following questions relate to our Perspectives column, in which two writers respond to an artwork that they are experiencing for the first time.

Can the search for meaning in art lead us to dead ends?
Yes, art can be full or devoid of meaning according to the audience.

Do our memories of an artwork become part of the work itself?
Yes, I will never separate Rodin’s sculptures from the intense sweetness of the roses in the garden of the Rodin Museum.

The art of discovery

The following questions relate to Silent Frame’s aim to celebrate the art of discovery.

For you, is artistic discovery a private or shared experience, and why?
For me it starts as a very private, intimate thing and then it becomes a public property in both good and not so good ways.

What does discovery mean to you?
It means that subtle shift when you realise that you have been living a smaller life than you thought you did.

What was your greatest artistic discovery?
Reading. The moment I went from illiterate to literate was like an atom splitting.

Where do you go to discover new art?
Non-fiction, usually. All those stories dying for someone to breathe creative life into them.

What question would you like to ask other Silent Frame interviewees?
How much do you procrastinate?

More to discover

Nadifa Mohamed: You can visit Nadifa Mohamed's page on the HarperCollins website here, including links to Black Samba Boy and the short story 'Party Girl'. You can purchase The Orchard of Lost Souls on the Simon & Schuster website here. The author's Twitter handle is @thesailorsgirl.

Magnus Taylor has interviewed Mohamed for African Arguments, as have Harriet Crawford for the Financial Times, Hans Rollman for PopMatters, and Sameer Rahim for The Telegraph. She has also been interviewed by Granta, following her selection as one of Granta's Best Young British Novelists; watch here.

Today's recommendations: Banjo (GoodReads page), Gabbeh (trailer), Aar Maanta (Facebook page), Bert Hardy (page on The Photographers' Gallery website), The Hounding of David Oluwale (page on the Oberon Books website).

Also on Silent Frame