Normally, a B.C. writer stands atop the Association of Book Publishers of B.C.’s weekly bestsellers list. But this week, a novelist from the other side of the country—Halifax’s Francesca Ekwuyasi—holds that position for Butter Honey Pig Bread, a phenomenally successful debut novel about three Nigerian women.
Ekwuyasi, who was born in Nigeria, achieved this distinction because Vancouver-based Arsenal Pulp Press was smart enough to publish it, so it qualified as a B.C. book for that list.
That’s not the only accolade for Butter Honey Pig Bread. It’s also part of this year’s CBC Canada Reads series, and it was longlisted for last year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize.
Before Ekwuyasi became coast-to-coast-to-coast famous, she was like any other struggling novelist, ready to accept a writing gig when it was offered.
So she eagerly responded to an invitation from Heist theatre cofounder Aaron Collier to help develop a new multimedia storytelling show called Frequencies.
“Aaron had created these sounds,” Ekwuyasi recalled in a recent phone interview with the Straight. “It was pretty wild.”
She and multidisciplinary artist Stewart Legere, were asked to write something in response to these noises, which included the sounds of a forest.
In addition, Collier had a series of podcast interviews about his experience of childhood loss following the death of an older brother.
“And, again, he invited us to write in response to that,” Ekwuyasi said. “They were really incredible prompts.”
The overarching storyline was Collier’s, but the show included elements written by Ekwuyasi and Legere in this very unusual collaboration.
This month, Vancouver’s Pi Theatre will livestream Frequencies with Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg and Theatre Outré in Lethbridge.
In the version that Ekwuyasi saw in the first iteration, a river and forest were personified, something that’s quite common in Nigerian literature.
“It definitely exists in Ibo folk tales and folklore, same as [with] Yoruba folklore,” she said.
Frequencies is part of Pi Theatre’s Provocateurs Presentation Series, which was launched in 2017 to bring innovative and incendiary artists to Vancouver.
The company’s artistic and producing director, Richard Wolfe, told the Straight by phone that the pandemic made it impossible to attract touring shows, so he went searching for productions that could be livestreamed.
The first two in this year’s series are Montreal-based La Fille du Laitier’s Macbeth Muet and Heist’s Frequencies.
Heist has included a virtual-reality component, enabling the audience to see what a character is viewing through a headset.
“It’s a very cool company and a very cool project,” Wolfe said.
He noted that Macbeth Muet was performed in Vancouver a few years ago at the Revolver Festival with Pi Theatre as a partner.
This Shakespeare story is told through objects, with no words, focusing on a lost child.
Wolfe said that one of the innovations in Macbeth Muet are the different camera angles during the livestream.
Viewers have the option to look from the main camera angle, but they can also choose other angles from cameras shooting the production from behind the stage, which will appear as thumbnails at the bottom of the screen.