Writer in Residence Chekwube Danladi is edgy, tender and accomplished

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chekwube danladi
Chekwube Danladi, the current writer in residence at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Sept. 30, 2022. Kate Bown/The Occidental

2022–2025 Writer in Residence Chekwube Danladi teaches creative writing at Occidental with both an edge and a way with words. She currently teaches “Creative Writing: Introduction to Fiction Writing” and “Creative Writing: Poetry” in the English department.

“I grew up in West Baltimore, and when I was a kid people would tell me ‘You’re too soft — you’re never going to survive like this unless you get a little bit harder,’” Danladi said. “There’s this hardness to life that I think myself and other people that I grew up with developed as a survival mechanism.”

Her identical twin sister, Onyinye Alheri, who works for the World Food Program in Mozambique, said that once when they were on a road trip together, a lady tried to cut them off in her car at a gas station, but that Danladi would have absolutely none of that. Alheri said that Danladi is the edgier and more assertive twin. However, Danladi also created space to help their mother process her feelings around leaving the United States to go back to Nigeria, Alheri said, and does guided meditations that have made students cry from being moved, according to Alheri.

“She insists on her students calling her by her first name and not ‘professor’ because she doesn’t want to create this hierarchy,” Alheri said. “She has life experience and education experience that maybe her students don’t have, but she wants to create an environment where they feel like they can also attain that.”

chekwube danladi
Chekwube Danladi, the current writer in residence at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Sept. 30, 2022. Kate Bown/The Occidental

Alheri loves the poetry in her sister’s book “Take Me Back” — she said she will open a random page and feel blown away.

“It’s such tender writing. I feel transported into the book,” Alheri said. “That’s the go-to book I give people when I need a quick gift for somebody’s birthday or something because I know it will move them.”

Danladi’s other works include “Semiotics,” a poetry collection that unearths a Black femininity focused on retrieving unrestrained freedom, and “Better Be Divine,” a video showing the dancing of a shadow silhouette — influenced by West African and Afro-Diasporic ideas of queer feminine gender.

“I don’t necessarily think of myself as a visual artist. I’m comfortable saying that I make art sometimes,” Danladi said. “Similarly to writing, it’s more about the process, and the outlet of making that work than about calling myself something. To just let myself be a novice has been really nice.”

Danladi said she is a reformed punk, and the punk subculture has always been important to her. She said it was through the punk community that she became politicized, learned about social justice and community organizing and met queer and trans people within the community.

“The reason that I say I’m reformed is not that I feel a sense of disconnection from that, but that I’ve had to let go of some of the more self-destructive elements of it,” Danladi said. “There’s certain [punk] critiques of academic institutions that are complicated because I am a part of it.”

Danladi said a song that describes the essence of who she is would be Mereba’s “Black Truck.” She said she likes the song because it is smooth and soft.

“The song is about having been this person who is always maybe an outsider, or resistant to a more traditional approach to life, “ Danladi said. “But feeling vindicated in that, and saying ‘I have my own path to follow,’ even if it’s more difficult than what’s been laid out already. That’s a message that I try to reaffirm for myself, because sometimes it can be a lot of pressure to get in line, and that song is about what it is like to resist that and be yourself.”

Occidental’s English department chair, James Ford III, said there were over 100 applications for the 2022–25 writer in residence role, and Danladi’s application stood out because of her many accomplishments as a published writer and her stellar teaching record.

“[Danladi] won the [2019] Cave Canem prize, and that’s a very prestigious prize among Black diaspora poets,” Ford said. “So if anything, I’m surprised at just how much of a splash she’s made — basically as soon as she stepped on the writing scene. It has been consistent since.”

Alheri said the moment she was most proud of her sister was when Danladi found out she would be the 2022–25 writer in residence at Occidental. The writer in residence role is a full-time three-year position that involves teaching courses and collaborating with other members of the English department.

“I came home last night and laid on my indoor hammock. I was saying to myself, ‘Wow, I really enjoy the work I’m doing now,'” Danladi said. “It’s been really great to see how enthusiastic my students have been to write, learn new techniques and have stimulating conversations with their peers. It’s been wonderful. That’s a professor’s dream — for people to be interested in the subject.”