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In new debut novel, everyone wants to know 'Yinka, Where is Your Huzband?'

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Looking for a husband isn't easy. Throw in a family that really wants you to find one, and it can be pretty stressful. And if deep inside you are longing for that companionship, too, well, that's a special kind of pain. It's a dilemma Yinka finds herself constantly facing. She's in her 30s, unmarried and on the verge of eternal loneliness - well, at least according to her mother. Will her aunties ever stop loudly praying for her to find a spouse? Will she find love and on her own terms? All of that is explored in the new novel "Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband?" And author Lizzie Damilola Blackburn joins me now from Milton Keynes, England. Welcome to the program.

LIZZIE DAMILOLA BLACKBURN: Hi. Thanks so much for having me.

MCCAMMON: The protagonist in your story, Yinka, is feeling something that I think many women have felt. Many people have felt this pressure to hurry up and get married. And, of course, that's a classic theme, right? I mean, "Pride And Prejudice," "Bridget Jones." Why did you want to revisit that in your novel?

BLACKBURN: When I was in my early 20s - mid-20s - which is when I started writing Yinka, I was feeling the pressure to settle down by my own Nigerian mum. And so I decided to write a story about a Nigerian woman going through the same thing. And funnily enough, Yinka's story started off as a short story, and I had it on a blog that I ran called Christian-based dilemmas because I really craved to see that more Christians in mainstream fiction. The idea to turn to a novel came much later on when I met this fantastic author called Jackie Lau (ph) at this blogging (ph) workshop that I attended. And in addition to her giving some really helpful feedback, she said, you know, I really like this Yinka character. I think you should turn it into a novel, and I did. I took on a challenge blindly, and the rest you can say is history.

MCCAMMON: Why did you particularly want to explore the dilemmas of a Christian woman who's dating? What's different about that?

BLACKBURN: Yeah, I just kind of wanted to show how Christianity is not outdated, and how we have a personal kind of connection to a higher power. And I feel like there's like, you know, lots of people of faith out there, and they might have different, you know, morals or principles when it comes to dating. So in Yinka's case, she's saving herself for marriage because her virginity is very sacred to her. I just kind of wanted to show, like, someone shouldn't feel ashamed of their faith and kind of remove any stigma on it, as well.

MCCAMMON: Yinka is a Black woman from a British-Nigerian family. How does her family background shape the way that she navigates this experience of trying to find a husband?

BLACKBURN: in Nigerian culture, like, you know, marriage is seen as a very big deal. Yinka kind of struggles with like two cultures. She needs to kind of get to a place where she accepts that it's fine, you know, to have that conflict and doesn't make her any less of a person. And I think there's lots of people out there that can relate to, you know, not feeling quite British enough in some circles or Nigerian enough in other circles.

MCCAMMON: One of the issues you also take on in this book is white European beauty standards and Yinka's feelings about herself. What are her feelings about herself living in a mostly white culture and what do they mean for her as a woman who's out there, you know, dating?

BLACKBURN: So Vivian Carr, she kind of looks at society and what she sees and internalized that. So what she's saying is, you know, light-skinned and women with, like, Eurocentric beauty kind of being, like, put on a pedestal. Or, like, they are the love interest in music videos or in movies. And she's not seen enough dark-skinned women, so she kind of feels like, OK, if that's the case, then am I attractive? Yinka has to come to terms that she is beautiful, and she has to accept it and see it for herself. And that's how she kind of goes into self-discovery journey to value herself and to find her self-worth.

MCCAMMON: Yinka is also a highly successful woman. She's a professional, Oxford educated. She doesn't really need a man. But we realize pretty quickly that as much as she kind of tries to deny it, she wants a partner. How did she come to terms with that?

BLACKBURN: Yes, so I kind of wanted to show that, you know, if you want to find love, that's OK. In the same way that the person chooses not to get married, that's fine, as well. And also, I wanted to show that self-love is the most important love, as well, and that in order to truly love someone, you have to love yourself.

MCCAMMON: You've been quoted as saying that you wanted to sort of subvert the trope of the strong Black woman in this book. You wanted Yinka to be a little awkward, a little vulnerable. Tell us more about that.

BLACKBURN: I think in a pass on TV, we've seen, like, a lot of, like, strong Black women or, like, the kind of cool Black chick. And we're not a monolithic group. We're all kind of different. So with Yinka, she has that kind of quirky personality where, you know, she likes her lame jokes, but at the same time she is a bit in tune with, like, popular culture. Hopefully, there will be, you know, people that can identify with her.

MCCAMMON: That's author Lizzie Damilola Blackburn. Her novel "Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband?" is out now. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

BLACKBURN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.