INTERVIEW WITH ANGEL NDUKA-NWOSU
A Judge for the 2022 SprinNG Women Authors Prize
Angel Nduka-Nwosu (@asangelwassayin) is an award-winning multimedia journalist, editor, and writer.
She has written, edited, and researched for media houses like YNaija, RADR Africa, The Avalon Daily, Culture Custodian, and AMAKA Studio, to name a few.
An ardent feminist, she is the founder of The Emecheta Collective, a support and accountability network of women writers and creatives.
Currently, she is a freelance editor and works as an in-house writer at Urban Woman Magazine.
By Adedayo Onabade
Q: Many writers often describe vivid emotions when it comes to their writings. How would you describe your relationship with your writing? Is there a certain kind of feeling that your writings evoke for you?
A: For me, writing is memory and self-therapy. I write to keep a record of my growth as a person and also to find myself as a woman. Writing both for an audience and myself is something I will keep doing because, through writing, I have figured out how to navigate traumatic situations.
When I write, I give my voice permission to speak unafraid, even in scenarios away from the page and literary settings. I would definitely say that through writing, I have kept my ability to be nostalgic intact and have rebirthed myself into better versions.
Q: What specific experiences or life lessons, if any, propelled your love for writing?
A: Well, it wasn't a one-time thing. I grew up around books, and I think that led to me wanting to tell stories of my own. My parents are editors, and my mum is a retired English teacher. My dad, who is still a journalist, used to take me in particular on his field trips, where I would say I learned the basics of live interviewing. He also gave me my love of poetry because he made me recite poems as a form of discipline. I think all of these experiences led to my love of writing, but there's one experience that stands out as the beginning of me taking writing and its role in self-therapy more seriously.
So what happened was, in my new secondary school (Corona Secondary School), I was getting bullied a lot, and it got so bad that I lost my mind and was the recipient of physical abuse. My father bought me first-edition books by Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie. Reading both of them at that period made me realise that writing, not law for me, could also be a veritable tool to not only gain my sense of self back but to also advocate for the things I believed in.
Q: Women’s issues and experiences are central to your work, particularly with 'Document Women,' 'The Emecheta Collective,' and 'As Equals Africa,' all of which contribute to chronicling women’s experiences and opportunities, amplifying the feminist perspective and revitalizing the revolutionary stance of women against patriarchal norms, particularly within the African context. Why is this important to you?
A: Whenever I get variations of this question, I like to joke that the answer is self-evident: I am a woman, and it will only make sense to advocate for my well-being on any platform I find myself. Be it working as a journalist with Document Women and a host of other women-centered magazines or creating women-only safe spaces like The Emecheta Collective and As Equals Africa for women creatives.
I strongly believe in the power of storytelling as a pathway to healing and growth for a nation and a nation's women. It is appalling, therefore, that not enough is done to include women's unique needs and stories in the formation of a nation's value system.
Men control the narrative in Nigerian media and much of literature, which is damaging because what it inadvertently means is that women would either be sidelined or have our stories narrated by those who don't live our experiences in the name of "men listen to men." I want a time where women would not have to seek verbal freedom by begging men to speak to other men to ask them to see women as human.
All my ventures as a poet, writer, podcaster, etc., are my way of ensuring our stories occupy the popular narrative.
Q: The term ‘feminism’ has come to earn a reputation different from its fundamental principles, especially in Nigeria. Being a vocal advocate for women's rights, how are you able to stay grounded in what you believe about the movement despite the general misconceptions surrounding it?
A: Feminism, to me, is the advocacy of women's humanity. Getting Nigerian society to acknowledge women as human and not as property belonging to men is the primary focus of what my feminism entails. I feel much of the denials of women's rights are because we are not seen as human but rather as extensions of men.
In all honesty, I believe that there is no "right" way to do feminism, and so I don't even attempt to shame the feminists who are called "extreme." When someone (read: men) has their foot on your neck, giving them a better view of the world, they don't care if you are asking them to remove it in a quiet or loud tone. Their anger comes from you having the audacity to realise that you, too, deserve not to have burdens. Some people consider my feminism "too extreme," while others have mocked my feminism as "too small-minded and equality driven." I don't pay attention to any of them.
I rather focus on the fact that I want women to be seen as humans and also remind me that so long as world societies, even away from Nigeria, are structured and thrive on women's pain, feminism and the full development of women's rights will always be an uncomfortable subject. Not too long ago, it was seen as "too extreme" and "unladylike" to talk about women's education in Nigeria, but I'm yet to see a Nigerian woman who doesn't want a university or higher education as her right.
It was also seen as "unladylike" to go to a pharmacy and buy pads for your period without being quiet and hushful about it. But though that misconception exists, more women are speaking about their periods and bodies even to random strangers on the internet.
Q: Your work stands at the intersection of media, gender politics, pop culture, and social justice. What is the binding factor for you in all of these different interests?
A: Haha. This should be the first time someone has eloquently captured all my different career interests. I can't give a concrete answer to what the binding factor is. But if I'm hard-pressed for an answer, I'll definitely say it is my love for numerous storytelling formats as a pathway to advocacy and healing. So my book reviews, podcasts, performance poetry, and even short threads on my Instagram are my way of reaching diverse people using what they can best relate to.
Q: Beyond writing many beautiful pieces, you have also done a lot of editing work. What does it feel like being a writer and an editor? Also, how does being an editor influence your approach to your writing?
A: Thanks for the compliment! The thing with being a writer and professional editor is that you tend to be highly analytical and in search of perfection even as you write. As good as I am as an editor and writer, I don't consider being both a writer and editor a special thing. Maybe because both my parents are editors and writers and also maybe because the average professional Nigerian editor is also a writer.
When I write, most times, I write with what I call the "editor's eye." So I imagine how the editor in me would react should an article, poem, or even a Twitter or WhatsApp thread is brought to her to finetune. So that makes me write with the intent of clarity and reducing stress for whoever edits my own work. Because the honest truth is, no matter how good an editor is, feedback from a third party and the need for an editor will always be necessary for anyone who writes.
Q: For a good writer, asking the right questions and providing suitable answers are two sides of a coin. So how do you think one can strike a balance and use these two qualities best?
A: In all honesty, I don't quite know how to answer this. I would say that when writing, a writer should make efforts to speak their truth and kickstart honest conversations, however uncomfortable they may be.
Sometimes that would look like you giving the reader more questions than answers. But those questions you pose should ideally be those that cause the reader to look inwards and, on their own, try to seek solutions using their life experiences. In essence, your questions and answers when writing should be done in a manner that encourages the reader to think deeply if they weren't doing so.
Q: You recently featured on Track 2 — Tired, of Bunmi Africa's poetry album, "In Honour of the Broken," and you said these words: "As much as men have abused the word 'strong' when it comes to women, there's a part of me that's now slowly reclaiming it. Most times, when women call me strong, it's often a way of saying, 'I am determined, unwavering, and I know how to rise like a Phoenix. So yeah, giving that definition, I'm definitely strong." Going by these words, what has the process of reclaiming the word "strong" been like for you? What does this entail? How do you interrogate intentions and meanings?
A: Reclaiming the word "strong" has been realising that there are two definitions of a strong woman, and this depends on if the person is a sexist or if the person asked to define has women's best interests at heart.
When you ask a sexist man or woman who a strong woman is, the scenario they will mostly pull up is a woman enduring nonsense at the hands of a man in a relationship but never making attempts to overcome it. For them, strong is a woman who endures harsh trials like a rock without realising there is no reward for suffering in silence. That is the first (sexist) definition.
The second definition of strong, which I tend toward, is a woman who acknowledges that life would always have negative experiences but makes an attempt to ensure that she not only overcomes negativity but also ensures her ability to see the good in little things and to laugh is kept intact.
Q: Do you have any writing quirks that impact your writing experience? Could you also share them with us and how you deal with them in your writing process?
A: I don't have any major writing quirks. I just know that if I need to write effectively, I must be well rested and limit my social media usage. Reading also helps me get ideas for articles and reading a particular genre consistently also builds my confidence as a writer in that genre. I also have books I run back to re-read when I need an escape or experiencing a creativity block.
Q: You’ve been quite open about some of your struggles and concerns in your writing, from PCOS and reproductive health issues to body image and autonomy. Where would you say that we are today as a society regarding the culture of silence around some of these issues? What improvements can be made to see a positive change towards this culture and the biases that feed them?
A: Considering how sexist Nigerian society can be, I would say we are in a good place. It doesn't mean it cannot be better, but we are in a good place. We have more women on social media speaking up about the effects of childbirth, endometriosis, postpartum depression, and sexual relationships. We also have women using their voices to call out abusers and to interrogate the language of traditional media reporting on rape. Does this mean they don't receive backlash? No, it doesn't. But why I say we are in a good place is because more younger women know how to navigate topics of sex, PCOS, and periods compared to previous generations where silence ruled the day.
As to what can be better done further to tackle the culture of silence regarding women's bodies, I'll say four things. First, we need to move the pro-women conversations onto more traditional non-online mediums like radio and television. This would help women who do not have access to social media to still benefit from the conversation. Second, as feminists, we need to be more intentional about creating women-only safe spaces where women can come to discuss issues and share opportunities without fear of male judgment lurking. That is what I have tried doing with The Emecheta Collective and As Equals Africa.
Third, more effort should be made to have a healthcare and wellness system that actively prioritises women's needs in the areas of policy. That would look like abortion rights, provision of sanitary aid in schools, offices, and public places, and the ability to report inappropriate behaviour or shaming of women by healthcare personnel. Finally, there should be more efforts to include knowledge about women's bodies and consent in the curriculum of schools from as early as kindergarten.
Q: Your piece, 'Daughters are not consolatory prizes,' for the YNaija IWD2021 Special, touched on the prevailing culture that views the female child as subpar, even right from birth. What measures do you think can help to foster a reorientation against this damaging perception?
A: The answer to me lies in removing gendered norms and realising the value that daughters bring to a home. So most people don't want daughters cause "a girl cannot carry a family name and will work for her husband's family". But I have to ask why we have placed the power of life and death of a family name in the hands of male children. I also have to ask why we do not see children (both male and female) as human but as mere tools to propagate a family's legacy.
If we interrogate the culture of the name change after marriage and even the culture of seeing marriage as the logical destiny of every Nigerian woman, there will be less fuss about a daughter not being valid. Asides from the obsession with marriage and seeing daughters as property to be married off for a bride price, I believe that more married daughters especially need to be more open about the financial contributions they give even to their aged parents and family of birth.
Unmarried daughters should also speak as well because research has shown numerously that in low-income Nigerian families, daughters and women generally contribute almost to the point of being breadwinners. However, I want married women who contribute to their non-marital families to explicitly mention their contributions and receive praise as it will tackle the belief that daughters are not worthy, seeing as there is a myth that they shall not be useful anymore once they marry.
Q: Your hair can be described as vivacious, as you have transitioned from the full kinky hair to bold, chunky locs. What inspires this adventurous streak? Is it a journey of coming into your own?
A: Thank you! Well, hair is a deeply personal part of my personality. It's often my way of rebirthing myself and marking a new beginning. I decided to finally get locs at the end of a very traumatic 2020, to signify a new journey into healing. Although a part of me was unsure about locs, it seemed the hair was determined to be in loc form because, by the time I realised I had twists for quite a while, it was already loc'ing.
Q: Sometimes, characters tend to stay with us long after reading books. Does this happen to you? If yes, which character(s) from a book by a female Nigerian author(s) comes to mind?
A: Definitely, that happens. There are two characters that stay on my mind. First is Nnu Ego from the novel Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta. Her life was a tragedy but it is a reminder to women to be intentional in not defining ourselves strictly by children and men.
The second is Ifemelu from the novel Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I read Americanah for the first time when I was 14, and I've read it countless times. Her ability to rise from negative situations and keep her head high is what inspires me to be cutthroat confident.
Q: What is the one thing you wish you had learned about being a writer sooner? Also, how has this knowledge transformed your writing?
A: Hmmm. I can't really think of any at the moment. But it may be not comparing myself with other writers and their writing journeys. Understanding that everyone is on their own journey to being confident in their voices as writers has helped me focus on just reading a lot and building my craft as a writer.
Q: New writers are emerging daily, especially in Nigeria and Africa. What advice would you share with those who are new to the experience of writing?
A: I would say six things. Read a lot. Do not compare yourself to more established writers. Do not leave your day job if you have no other source of income. Build community with other writers. Social media is good but do not consume so much of it. Just write.
Q: Can we expect a book from you soon? Also, what genre(s) would you be looking at?
A: I actually don't know. I definitely shall publish a book before I die, but for now, I'm just focusing on building my craft, submitting it to literary magazines, and developing more confidence as a writer in numerous genres.
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.
3/12/2022 06:19:13 pm
Amuda Abbas Ouwadamilola
12/12/2022 09:39:12 am
Brilliant interview. I like the depth and variety of questions asked by the interviewer, and the honest, optimistic and visionary replies it generated from the interviewee. I also loved the 'advice to writers' section the most. Six short but practical tips. Gracias to you both!
Leave a Reply.