Author of The Sex Lives of African Women and co-founder of Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women, Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, will never stop writing about sex: ‘Sex is very political, and the construction of it as private is a strategy to maintain particular narratives around sex.’
First Draft is our interview column, featuring authors and other prominent figures on books, reading, and writing.
Our questions are italicized.
What books or kinds of books did you read growing up?
I grew up reading the Ramona series. I loved those books. I was such a mischievous child, and it took a while for my mum to realize that I was recreating all those escapades that Ramona got into. I also read a lot of Sweet Valley High books. I remember one time convincing my friend who was staying over that we should stay up late so we could have a midnight feast. It was during the Christmas season and so we gorged on Piccadilly biscuits (a sort of pale sweet-like treat that used to be everywhere during the festive season in Ghana when I was growing up). It all ended badly when I threw up all over the floor.
And do you remember the first time you read about sex? (What book was it, which author and what did you think of it?)
I initially read about sex in a Mills and Boon book, or it could have been Harlequin or Silhouette. I don’t quite remember but sometime in my early teens, I became a huge consumer of romance novels. I would wrap up the covers in old newspapers so no one could see the racy images and read to my little heart’s content. A few months ago, I interviewed my cousin Nana Malone for the forthcoming Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women podcast. She’s a best-selling romance writer, and she told me about how when she and I first met, (I lived in Ghana, she lived in the USA) around the age of 11, I slid a tattered Mills and Boon across the table to her and said, ‘read it, there’s kissing in it’.
If you could rewrite a classic book/text, which would it be and why?
Why would anyone rewrite a classic, unless it was a problematic one, and in that case bin it?
Sometime in my early teens, I became a huge consumer of romance novels. I would wrap up the covers in old newspapers so no one could see the racy images and read to my little heart’s content.
What’s the one book you’ll never stop reading?
In general, I tend to read books only once but there are a couple of books that I have been wanting to go back to reread including Wounds of Passion by bell hooks which moved me so deeply when I first read it. I was both enthralled and slightly horrified by the way bell hooks had treated her lover’s wife, I also really loved the nonlinear way she told her own story, and for my next book I want to experiment with a form that’s part memoir, and so I have been wanting to go back to that book for ages now. It feels more urgent especially now to re-read bell hooks as she has just passed, and her book Ain’t I a Woman had a profound impact on how I came to an understanding of myself as a feminist.
What’s the last thing you read that changed your mind about something?
I’m currently listening to The Right to Sex by Amia Srinivasan. The chapter on porn has reminded me about how uncomfortable I am with the free porn that is abundant on the Internet, and I’ve decided to finally subscribe to one of the many incredible feminist queer porn sites that exist.
And what’s the last thing you read and disagreed with?
I am one of those people who is very happy living in a world of my creation, and in community with like-minded people. I like books that challenge me, and I feel like Amia Srinivasan is challenging me right now in some ways, but I am unlikely to read anything by anyone whose values are at polar opposites with mine.
It feels more urgent especially now to re-read bell hooks as she has just passed, and her book ‘Ain’t I a Woman’ had a profound impact on how I came to an understanding of myself as a feminist
Your most recent book is The Sex Lives of African Women. What’s one thing you wish more people knew about African women and sex?
There are many, many, many things I want people to know about African women and sex clearly. If I had to capture it as one thing, I would say to recognize the vast tapestry of our sexualities and experiences.
What is your writing process: edit as you write or draft first, then edit?
I can’t help but edit lightly as I write although I always advocate drafting first 🙂 Yes, I’m a bag of contradictions.
And what was your process for writing The Sex Lives of African Women?
In retrospect, in some ways, it was an overly long process, but that was the way it needed to be. In a nutshell, I interviewed women over a five-year span. Initially, I focused on meeting women from as many different African countries as possible and, for example, interviewing them face to face in hotel rooms when I had travelled to other countries (I used to travel a lot for my work) on the side-lines of literary festivals that I got invited to, and interviewing people who had come to Ghana to visit. In the final years and in the context of the global health pandemic I did call-outs on social media and the Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women blog and selected some people to interview via video on Zoom. I would then transcribe all the interviews using a robot, and then go through each transcript and painstakingly correct each one. That was the most painful part of the process but that was also how the story would come to me because I would really hear the story during that process. It was only after doing that work that I could write.
I am one of those people who is very happy living in a world of my creation, and in community with like-minded people.
What’s the most interesting reaction/feedback you’ve had while writing openly about African women and sex?
My mum’s 70-something-plus friend dragging her for calling my writing controversial 🙂 The older generation can be way more liberated about sex than we tend to think.
Why is sex difficult [for so many people] to talk/write/read about?
Sex is difficult to talk about because we have been taught to think of sex as something that is private, and an act that should only be performed by two people after they have been socially sanctioned to do so through a marriage ritual. The reality is that sex is very political, and the construction of it as private is a strategy to maintain particular narratives around sex: that good sex is heterosexual sex, should only be done within the confines of marriage, results in children, and is enjoyed only by the man.
What is the most meaningful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Make writer friends and be happy for them when they get published and do well. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche said that at the 2012 Farafina’s writing workshop that I was lucky enough to attend, and that has not only stayed with me but transformed my life. My friends are basically writers, feminists, and often, feminist writers.
Sex is very political, and the construction of it as private is a strategy to maintain particular narratives around sex: that good sex is heterosexual sex.
Who is an author you wish you had discovered earlier?
No one. I feel like you discover a writer just at the right time you need them in your life.
What’s something simple but surprising about writing a book?
Keep plugging away at it and one day you’ll get done even if you only write a paragraph a day.
What is your favourite topic to write or read about these days? (Please include the names of articles and books, if possible)
I can never get bored of writing about sex. My reading is a bit more promiscuous though. I enjoyed We Need to Talk About Money by Otegha Uwagba. I am currently reading The Teller of Secrets by Bisi Adjapon and my nighttime audio reading is Bad Love by Maame Blue.
What’s the one thing you won’t write about?
The Sex Lives of African Men so folks can stop asking me about that 🙂 I am happy to have conversations with men about their sex lives though. Someone has recently convinced me to do a men-only event on The Sex Lives of African Women and I’m down for that. I have had quite a few men send me DMs of them reading the book, telling me they enjoy the book, have learnt a lot etc but the majority of my men readers never post publicly on social media about the book the way women do.
What should we expect you to write about next?
More sex 🙂 My third book is going to be historical fiction though but that will be a while down the line.
I can never get bored of writing about sex. My reading is a bit more promiscuous though.
What’s on your Christmas/end of the year wish list?
Oh my goodness, so much including sex. Being a busy single mum is bad for your sex life even when you write about sex and sexualities. Also a spa day, massages, daily walks, beach time, a holiday with my girls, lots of brunches, time with my family, and some much-needed solo time to read and listen to my fav podcasts.
And what do you like to read around Christmas/the end of the year?
I love all those end of year lists that people do. Their ‘fav books of 2021’, lessons learnt in 2021, any sort of summary of the year piece works for me. I am currently working on an ‘Inspiring feminist acts of resistance from 2021’ piece with my colleagues at AWID. I like to write and read these kinds of stories because I think it helps us to reflect on the year that is ending, and to start our planning for the one to come.
As we end the year, which text(s) would you say shaped your 2021?
I read some incredible books this year. My friend Yewande Omotoso has a book called An Unusual Grief that should be out anytime now, I was lucky enough to be sent an advance reader copy, and I was blown away by the way she handled grief and the burgeoning sexuality of her middle-aged woman character. I also recently read Jennifer Makumbi’s The First Woman and I just love what she does with description and detail. I also really enjoyed The Deep Blue Beyond by Ayesha Harruna Attah who is also a dear friend of mine. I don’t think as Africans we engage enough with our biggest diaspora, Brazil, and I really appreciated how Ayesha allowed us as readers to travel between Ghana, Nigeria and Brazil in that book.
And this time next year, what’s something you hope to have changed, or hope has changed in your life or work?
After the first quarter of next year, I will be working full time on my own creative pursuits. I am super excited about that. I have always done stuff on the side, and from April 2022 all my side hustle is going to become my main hustle. So, I’ll be working on my next book, promoting The Sex Lives of African Women, and be working on The Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women podcast with Malaka Grant and AQ Studios
Question from Wardah Abbas: If you could read and write in a foreign language, which language would you choose and why?
Sadly, it would probably be French, another colonial language. It would also be really cool to write, speak, and read Swahili though. I have such a love for Kenya, and East Africa in general.
Bonus: Please suggest a question for a future author’s First Draft.
If you weren’t a writer, what would you be?⎈
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