'They invented gods to beg.' An Interview with TJ Benson #WriterPrompt Winner.

All they wanted was water. The one thing their money could not afford. They roamed from city to city. They scavenged the jungles and wilderness. In the desert they painted hills black to absorb the sun and melt the clouds. They dug dry river beds and coaxed wells.

They invented gods to beg. They divided rocks for at least its memory. They believed the memory of it was better than nothing. Soon some of them began to fall into a death sleep lured by its refreshing memory. Those who fought it to survive were terrified.

A little girl gave up her life to bring water. She closed her eyes, stretched out her hands and got swept up in a nostalgic flood. It came down in torrents, darkening the sky and they stretched their hands to receive it. They didn’t know it wasn’t going to stop. They didn’t know they were going to die.

What motivates you to be a better writer?

BENSON: Life itself. It can be so beautiful and painful at times. Even the pain can be beautiful.

Do you approach writing as a craft or as an art?

BENSON: As an art first before craft, maybe if I had an academic training in creative writing it would be different. I saw the last sentence of my piece without knowing how to end it but I just continued anyway. Little leaps of faith, like walking into a room full of antiques to explore with a blindfold. I don't know if that is a craft that can be honed.

Who are the African writers that grab your attention?

BENSON: I love Mehul Gohil. The range of his imagination is just aaah! Then I love Ndinda Kioku aah Ndinda! Then Okwiri Oduor, her stories make me proud to be a part of this generation. Everything I've read from her is a masterpiece, no sentences to waste: in every sentence she blows your mind. There is Clifton Gachagua and Michael Ogah, the consistency of his genius and everydayness of his stories is just refreshing.

Tell us about your experience with Expound magazine.

BENSON: Well I just want to say I am proud of the team. The quality of work produced each issue is really impressive so I am happy to work as the photography editor. Just to add also, I love Leslie Nneka Arimah! The brusqueness of her stories has sharpened my short stories.


TJ Benson is a Nigerian short story writer, creative photographer and pasta enthusiast whose works have appeared online and in print journals like Kalahari Review, Paragram (UK), Afridiaspora, and Contemporary Literary Review India. He is the photography editor of Expound Magazine and his short story ‘An Abundance of Yellow Paper’ won the Amab-HBF prize this January. Another story of his, ‘Passion Fruit’ was shortlisted for the Awele Prize. He has multiple projects in the works including a collection, Self, of photography and poetry, a collection of Afro Sci-Fi stories titled We Won't Fade into Darkness and a novel. He cooks and share thoughts on Twitter and Instagram via @tjbensonng

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Interview by Tiah Beautement a.k.a. @ms_tiahmarie