Author of ‘Love and War’, Salem Afangideh, grew up on romance novels and has lately been gravitating towards wholesome texts about womanhood: ‘The world feels so thick with grief and uncertainty right now; so, escaping into worlds where women who look and feel like me are loved well and are guaranteed happy endings is comforting and nourishing.’
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 about love/relationships did you read growing up?
I got all my coming-of-age stories about love and relationships from romance novels. My mom and her sisters enjoy the art form of a good romance novel and so we always had them in abundance in my home. Technically, I was not supposed to be reading romance novels at a young age but once I discovered them I had to have more. I would sneak through my mom’s stack as often as I could because I found love to be magical and the process of watching strangers become indispensable to each other felt intriguing to me as a kid.
If you could rewrite a classic book/text, which would it be and why?
I would love to rewrite Buchi Emecheta’s books with happily ever afters for all her woman characters who never got them. Specifically The Joys of Motherhood. That was the first book I read that taught me how hard women had it and I remember feeling a sort of long-lasting righteous indignation after reading it. It upset me that death and fantasies of death were Nnu Ego’s only reprieve; that she felt even in death she would still be called upon as an ancestor and not entitled to rest. I would love to write her a sequel of sorts where we see her entitled to an afterlife full of all the things this world deprived her of.
I found love to be magical and the process of watching strangers become indispensable to each other felt intriguing to me as a kid.
What’s the last thing you read that changed your mind about something?
In November I read a book called Necessary Endings by Dr Henry Cloud. Most people know him from his seminal work on boundaries. I started reading his work on endings because I was struggling to accept several endings that were showing up in my life. As someone who has mostly identified as a ‘fighter’ and who goes after what she wants, it was hard to wrap my brain around accepting an ending as a positive thing and to not associate endings with giving up on myself. Necessary Endings helped me move through the process of accepting the endings that needed attention in my own life. It even gifted me with the skills and language towards becoming more proactive about initiating endings rather than continuing to fight for things that have reached their peak.
What is your writing process: edit as you write or draft first, then edit?
My process changes each time. Every time I write something new it feels like I have to be present with whatever process that piece of work wants to take me on. Some works I cannot edit until I’ve completed the draft, no matter how much I want to edit as I write. I do feel like editing while drafting is my natural tendency.
As someone who has mostly identified as a ‘fighter’ and who goes after what she wants, it was hard to wrap my brain around accepting an ending as a positive thing and to not associate endings with giving up on myself.
In your essay, ‘Love and War’, you wrote about being the child of a Biafran War survivor. What’s something you wish more people knew about being a descendant of a Biafran War survivor?
I wish more people realized the causalities of war don’t just go away after the war. In fact, the psychological casualties continue to last even generations after. I wish we as impacted people would give ourselves a little more grace about the ways living with the effects of war has shaped us. I wish non-impacted people would realize that we carry the effects of war in our bodies even if it’s a war that is erased from public consciousness (like Nigeria tries to do of the Biafran War).
How old were you when you found out about the war and what was your reaction?
I think I was about nine when my dad told me the full story, and he did so in ways that were age-appropriate. I don’t remember much about how I reacted or responded but I remember the feeling of awe about how much my dad had survived. Before that, I always thought my dad was a little odd because of how introverted he was and how he preferred the company of books to people. He mostly kept to himself and was often hyper-vigilant and I always wanted him to be more carefree and outgoing. Understanding him as a war survivor helped me contextualize why survival was his most important instinct.
What books were your introduction to the Biafra war?
My dad recommended Ojukwu’s Because I am Involved, as a way to understand him and his complexities a bit more. So that was an early read. However, my favourite book about Biafra came into my life as an adult after Achebe published There Was a Country. There Was a Country allowed me to have a deeper understanding of what was going on before, around, and after the war.
I wish more people realized the causalities of war don’t just go away after the war.
What is your favourite love story of all time?
I think my favourite love story will be my love story with the person who becomes my life partner, and that story is not yet available to me.
My parents’ love story brings me a lot of warmth and it’s high on my list of favourites. My dad proposed to my mom with a bottle of honey and a can of evaporated milk and asked her to begin a journey with him to build a home that would feel like a paradise flowing with milk and honey. Romantic no? But she initially turned down his proposal. Her reasoning was that they were best friends, and she did not want to ruin the sure thing they already had. Obviously, they eventually put aside their stubbornness and fear and found their way back to each other.
What is the most meaningful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
‘Writers write.’ — My mother. At some point in my late teens, I was overthinking whether to call myself a writer since I didn’t have a professional degree in writing and did not yet have any published work. I felt disqualified from writing. My mom, a published author many times over, looked at me in my distressed state and told me to go and write; that the only thing that qualified me to write was the fact that I was writing. She ended that pep talk with ‘writers write’ and since then it has meant so much to me in every stage of my writing journey.
‘Writers write.’ — My mother.
What is your favourite topic to write or read about these days?
These days I find myself craving essays and books on womanhood because those themes are relevant to me and the questions I’m asking of myself right now. I still enjoy romance novels and always have one or two by my bedside. The world feels so thick with grief and uncertainty right now so escaping into worlds where women who look and feel like me are loved well and are guaranteed happy endings is comforting and nourishing.
In the coming of age/womanhood genre, the best book I read last year was A Girl is a Body of Water, (also known as The First Woman), by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. For my romance books, I love anything by Jasmine Guillory, Talia Hibbert, N. G. Peltier, and Alexandria House.
Question from Peace Medie: Which book most made you want to be a writer?
There wasn’t really a book in particular that made me want to become a writer. But the feeling of going into bookstores or libraries and being surrounded by so many published books made me realize that I, too, wanted people to read things I wrote.
Bonus: Please suggest a question for a future author’s First Draft.
What’s your biggest writing goal or dream?⎈
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