Writer, Editor, and Judge for the 2022 SprinNG Women Authors Prize
Adeola Opeyemi is a writer, and developmental editor. She was a finalist for the 2015 Writivism Short Story Prize, 2016/2019 Morland Foundation Scholarship, and a fellow of the Ebedi Writers’ Residency.
A 2020 Miles Morland African Writer Scholar, Adeola has been published in online and print journals. She has served as editor on several lit mags, including Afridiaspora and Yaba Left Review.
She is the editor/co-editor of My Africa, My City (an anthology of writings about African cities) and Obibini Te Ase: an anthology of new writing from Ghana.
By Adedayo Onabade
Q: You are a decorated writer with many recognitions and acceptances to show for it. Where and when did writing begin for you?
A: I can’t remember exactly what can be classified as my first writing. However, my earliest memory of writing was when I was eleven or so. I had found a tattered copy of Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine on my father’s bookshelf and read it. I hated the ending of that book so much that I decided to write my version of the last chapter. I thought Ihuoma deserved a better life. I still do.
Q: It is an open secret that sharing one’s work with the world, especially via submissions to journals and magazines, is crucial to visibility, creative growth, and validation. If this statement is anything to go by, do you remember the first time any literary journal or magazine accepted your work? If yes, what was the experience like for you?
A: It wasn’t a journal, actually. It was this online platform called Naija Stories. Most of the big names you know today cut their teeth on that site. It was managed by Myne Whitman (Nkem Akinsoto). You can self-publish your story, and if it gets approved, it will show up on the site. However, if your story is really good, it will get selected as Editor’s pick for the week. I remember screaming my head off when the first story I ever published on that site was selected as Editor’s Pick. This was around 2010 or 2011. I got a lot of comments and criticism for that work. So when I think of the writer I am today, I think some of the credit goes to the incredibly brilliant and kind writers in the comment section that year.
Q: Still in line with the above statement, do you think being published in print or journals is an important yardstick to consider in defining what makes a writer? If yes, why? If not, what makes a writer in your book?
A: I have been accused by friends and foes alike of hoarding my work. I seldom publish. What defines a writer in my book is not how often you publish but how often you write and read. If you do not feel like you are choking when you aren’t writing, perhaps you are not a writer after all.
Q: According to Nina Simone, “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live,” and it is no news that African writers have done great work in doing this. In this regard, every writer has their area of focus or the most pressing issues/themes they tend to highlight in their work. What problems or stereotypes would you say that you are interested in bringing to light? Otherwise, what message(s) do you want to amplify? Also, do you think it is compulsory or essential for social criticism to take centre stage in storytelling?
A: I am currently interested in historical fiction and doing a lot of research on postcolonialism. However, I think it’s time to let African writers write whatever they want without the burden of expectations. For example, I’d like to read an African romance that’s just that – two people falling in love without the politics of social criticism. So if you want to write a book about a dog missing its way home, so be it. And can we have some really good Nigerian erotica, please?
Q: You write, yet you also do a lot of editorial and developmental work. How do you bridge both interests without compromising either the creative or technical aspects of writing for both? Also, how does your work as an editor shape you as a writer and reader?
A: They are two separate hats or, in this case, two separate lenses. I am a writer when I need to be and an editor when the occasion calls for one.
Q: It is true that writers appreciate honest feedback, as it is an important tool for creative assessment and improvement. However, do you ever think about how your work will be received or perceived? Also, to what extent do you think writers should centre readers in their writings or prioritize readers’ reviews/critiques of their work, judging by its tendency to be varied?
A: As I always tell the writers I work with – do not assume you know who your readers are or what they want. Approach your writing with as much honesty as possible and leave the interpretation to the readers.
Q: How has the writing journey been so far? Would you say it gets easier and more predictable as you explore your creativity?
A: It gets more complicated with time. I think the older you get, the more conscious you become of what is associated with your name.
Q: As an editor, what are some of the qualities you look out for in a work that help you determine if you're willing to take it on as a project?
A: How passionate is the writer about the story they are telling? Everything else is teachable. You cannot teach the fire a writer needs to bring their story to an acceptable standard.
Q: Your writings have centred on many themes and social issues, from insecurity and death to conflict and womanhood. In telling stories about the human experience, how do you determine what goes into a story you're working on? Are there subjects you think should not be given that much attention or narrative space?
A: No. I think writing should not be policed. A good story tells itself anyways; we are but just the canoes on which the story ferries itself home.
Q: Are there any books or content you engage with that are particularly helpful in making you a better writer?
A: There are authors whose writing I return to for guidance when I write. In no order of preference:
Charles Bukowski: for the brutal honesty and self-examination in his work that I hope to one day replicate in mine.
Ali Smith: because she is the queen of wordplay.
Haruki Murakami: you can run your fingers through the edges of his sentences, and the sharpness will slice you.
Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi: because why not?
Q: You recently bagged an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, a laudable achievement by all standards. Congratulations to you. What was the experience like, and what will you take away from that educational pursuit?
A: I am grateful for the community that the programme provided for me. I think that is the most important gift of a writing programme: having other people look at my work and be as excited about its potential as I am.
Q: You have described yourself as a retired painter. What other forms of artistic expression or general interest appeal to you outside of writing?
A: Does my interest in red wine qualify here? Just kidding. In my other life, I’d be a chef – the type who throws knives at ungrateful diners and curses their way to culinary success.
Q: Are there specific people you regard as mentors or significant influences in your writing?
A: I have had people hold my hands or cheer me on over the past years, and their support for my writing has made the journey easier. I won’t be mentioning names because I’d never be able to forgive myself if I mistakenly left anyone out.
Q: If you were to highlight five of the most important qualities every writer must possess, what would they be?
A: Discipline, discipline, discipline, discipline, and discipline. You can fake everything else; you can have doors opened to you because you are gorgeous or great at social climbing. But if you have not mastered the art of discipline – to write and in what you write – everything else is like building a sand castle in a storm.
Q: What would you consider the most challenging part of your work as an editor?
A: Returning to being a writer after a long day or week of editing. Editing saps the soul out of you. There is very little life left in you for your writing.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you, and what's your favourite part of your day?
A: I am an insomniac. I do a lot of serious work at night and pretend to be a zombie during the day. However, my favourite part of any day is when I open my bottle of wine and jump on a long call with my sisters or friends.
Q: Looking back at the wealth of experience you have gained, what would you tell your younger self?
A: Ignore the noise. The best of arts are made in the most deafening of silence.
Adedayo Onabade is a Nigerian essayist, fiction, and poetry writer. She holds a B. A. from Olabisi Onabanjo University and an M.A. from the University of Lagos, both in English Literature. Her works have been shortlisted for SynCity's 'Poetry in times of Corona' and #TwitterWritingContest.
Adedayo volunteers with STER (Stand to End Rape Initiative), a social justice organization that works to combat sexual and gender-based violence against women, girls, and vulnerable people. Outside writing, she is fascinated by NatGeoWild, art galleries, reading, and documentaries.
Abubakar Maimuna Esther
9/2/2023 08:20:39 am
Wow! Can I say I've found a new crush!?
Alhassan Musa Maibasira
11/2/2023 08:37:57 am
Indeed this is one of the best interview I have read so far in 2023.
11/2/2023 10:21:51 am
I have learnt alot from this, "deafen the noise". Thank you so much
11/2/2023 06:14:28 pm
This is one of the most inspiring publications I've ever read. Even though it's not like the usual 'grass to grace' story, the lady still paints a beautiful picture of passion and fulfillment. I just love the way she portrays maximum pleasure in what she does.
Shagba A. Raphael
11/2/2023 06:14:51 pm
Wow! Her responses didactic. In fact, they have ignited the spirit of writing in me
Peter Rangmak Dajang
11/2/2023 07:50:51 pm
This is very inspiring. I smiled when I read that she was inspired after reading "The Concubine," and she rewrote the last chapter to suit her sentiments. That shows creativity. Well done
16/2/2023 06:22:36 pm
The interviewee in responding to the well thought out questions asked by the interviewer left a lot of lessons for us, younger writers. Talk of discipline, the need to find comfort in quietude in a world where silence is abhorred, the importance of not insisting that an African writer by the virtue of being African must be an activist or a social critic and the need for the writer to be honest and dedicated to their craft amongst many other lessons.
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