Moving from Nigeria to the United States at nine years old, Texas State alumna Enkay (Kay) Iguh experienced intense culture shock. She found herself in a new place, surrounded by new people, and overwhelmed by the vast size of America. “There was so much of everything and so it took me a long time to feel like any of that was mine,” she says. Despite the dizzying change, there was a distinct feeling of optimism surrounding her new life. Kay describes that one of the biggest surprises was “the sense that you could be free to explore and be whatever you want to be—you’re told that everywhere, but nowhere did I fully believe it more than in America.”
From a young age, Kay enjoyed writing. However, she didn’t realize that writing could be her career until she reached Texas State. Before she arrived as an undergraduate, she considered her writing to be personally fulfilling, but not necessarily a lifetime vocation. She largely credits her professors at Texas State for realizing her potential and pointing her in the right direction to pursue her writing professionally.
Her professors in the English Department often suggested she seek advice from other professors who could help her with individual projects as well as planning for her future. Their availability and encouragement greatly motivated Kay to write more seriously and find a clearer path for her future. Professors were also available to speak with her about her personal life, serving as mentors for her outside of the classroom. “There were so many people shuttling me along in a really nice way,” she says.
She is grateful in particular for the positive influence of Twister Mariquiss, her instructor in an undergraduate creative writing class. Mr. Marquiss remembers that Kay had enormous talent as a writer even as an undergraduate. “She was the best undergraduate writer whose work I ever had the privilege of reading,” he recounts, recalling her mastery of the English language and her “storytelling ability to transport readers outside of the American mainstream.”
Although she considered joining Texas State’s MFA program in creative writing, Kay decided to move yet again, from Texas to Brooklyn, to attend New York University’s MFA program. There, she found herself challenged immensely. “I felt like I was in class with the best writers and the best readers. It was an environment that made you want to be better,” she recalls. Kay learned quickly that it didn’t matter how talented or supported a student was—regardless of a person’s gifts, the only way to succeed, she says, is through grit and hard work. This hard work proved to be instrumental in winning a NYC Emerging Writer’s Grant, which provides a monetary reward as well as opportunities to meet with agents and mentors; and the Disquiet Literary Prize, for which her story “House Girl” was published in Guernica and for which she received a trip to Lisbon, Portugal to attend the Disquiet International Literary Program.
The complications of immigration are a large part of what drives “House Girl.” The story is one part of a novel-in-progress titled A Fine Thing. In this book, Kay hopes to discuss issues of immigration, identity, family, and the meaning of home. “The big question the book asks is what happens when a person leaves their home for somewhere else?” Growing up, she obsessively read stories about Jewish immigrants, realizing later that she loved them because she could relate to them as an immigrant herself. Young immigrants and their children often feel disconnected from their culture and struggle to find a sense of identity. Kay hopes that her novel will resonate with people and provide the same connection that stories of immigration provided for her.
Kay currently teaches high-school students creative writing. She enjoys connecting with students, breaking down their barriers, and engaging them in new literature and writing to which they might be initially opposed. “Teaching is a way for me to connect with students and also to re-connect with the young student that I was. I think back to the great things my teachers did for me and try to share that with my students.”
And of course, she continues to write—for Kay, writing is a compulsion. “Writing is how I think. I express myself better on the page,” she says. She emphasizes reading as vital to the writing process, and personally enjoys experimenting with different styles. “It’s a balance of storytelling, recognition, and experimentation.” She draws inspiration from Toni Morrison, Chinua Achebe, and authors who have unique styles. She especially enjoys literature written by black women. She points out the importance of readers encountering a diversity of voices in literature.
As is true of many immigrants, Kay continues to feel connected to her former country, and she plans to do work for Nigeria in the future. “I have many dreams of what I want to do in Nigeria. I definitely want to give back to my Nigerian community there, whether it’s through education or promoting literacy.” For young writers who haven’t found their footing yet, Kay offers this advice: “Whatever the raw material is at your core that makes you want to write, protect that thing. Keep it pure. Don’t adulterate it with desires to be the most published or the most awarded.”
by Gloria Russell, English major