For many of us, 2020 was a rough year, but for Precious Nnebedum, it turned out to be “the best year of my life,” she told me.
Not only did she complete two nursing degrees despite the university making a less-than- smooth transition to online learning, she was also awarded best newcomer for both the Exil Literature Prize and the Kleine Zeitung “Kopf des Jahres” (Person of the Year) prize for her work as an activist, which included leading the Black Lives Matter demonstration in her home city of Graz, attended by more than 10,000 people.
“2020 literally taught me to figure out what I could do even though I was in a chaotic situation,” the 23-year-old Nigerian-Austrian said.
Creativity abounds in the life of this thoughtful and vibrant writer, poetry slammer and spoken word artist. But then, storytelling was always an essential part of Nnebedum’s family and culture. The youngest of five siblings, she spent the first half of her life in her native country, surrounded by her numerous relatives, where telling each other stories was a constant in their lives.
The adjustment to Austria wasn’t easy. The only black pupil in her school, she spent her first couple years at school hardly speaking at all. (“Since I didn’t know the language, I decided it was better to listen.”) It was a different story at home, where communication took place in a combination of English, German, Igbo, and a kind of pidgin English.
She also started keeping a journal, focusing on expressing herself in words and pictures on the page, and began writing poetry. Eventually, she found her literary voice.
Nnebedum now sees all the various challenges of living as a minority in Austria, and even the pandemic, as “blessings” in disguise.
“This pandemic’s made us squeeze out every last ounce of imagination we have,” she said, “and challenged us to see what we can do with what little we have at the moment.”
In Precious Nnebedum’s case, clearly, a “little” goes quite a long way.