Actress and author of Nearly All the Men in Lagos are Mad, Damilare Kuku, thinks criticism is a positive thing: ‘I’m good with criticism because I think it helps you understand what people want and makes you better.’
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 think the first book I read was the Bible. I hadn’t read anything else consciously until I started reading the Bible. I then progressed to reading Enid Blyton’s novels, which I read a lot of. I remember that whenever I did well in something at school, my mom would reward me with another Enid Blyton book, because she knew that I was devouring them at an alarming rate.
Gradually, I also progressed into African fiction as I discovered authors like Chinua Achebe, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, and Nawal El Saadawi. My mom had this library that I would just go into and not come out for a very long time. So, I read all kinds of books, but illustrated Bible stories were the first ones I read that actually sunk in. We had these yellow books in school that were full of Bible stories with paintings, and those books, along with Enid Blyton’s novels, were some of the first ones that encouraged my interest in books because I started reading with pictures in my head.
If your life so far was a series of texts, which text (fiction or non-fiction) represents you at this moment?
I think the book I would say represents me at this moment in time, interestingly, would be my book, Nearly All the Men in Lagos are Mad, because, you know, I keep running into mad people. It would be nice to just meet normal people.
How do you define ‘mad people’? What makes someone mad in Damilare Kuku’s world?
Madness in my world is a title I attach to behavioural patterns and just everything that represents anger, oppression, abuse, lack of empathy, lack of kindness; the list goes on.
For example, you are a mad person if you abuse human beings, whether men, women or children. You are a mad person if you hide bad behaviour under religion; you are a mad person if you take advantage of people; if you are a big company that signs creatives—artists, actors, writers, etc. and you tie them to contracts that have them in a cuckold and they are unable to do anything, you and the people that head that company—you are all mad.
You are a mad person if you can’t be upfront with a person about what you want in a relationship—so you string that person along for years and then ghost them or marry another person secretly, you are just mad. Oh yeah, you are also a mad person if you gaslight others and you are one of those whose motto is: ‘I can’t change, this is who I am’. No dear, you are just mad.
What’s the last thing you read and disagreed with?
Every time I go on Twitter, I read things I disagree with. Of course, I don’t voice my opinion. But every time I go on Twitter, there are a lot of things I read that I’m just like: ‘No, this should not be. You should not have typed this out. Did you really need to write this? Would we have died if we did not read this from you?’
What’s the last thing you read that changed your mind about something?
I follow a lot of funny accounts on Instagram. So, every time I’m on Instagram, I’m always reading tweets and stuff that are very interesting. I saw one particular picture which was a screenshot of a tweet on Instagram. And the author of the tweet wrote about how Gen Z prioritize their mental health over anything else, and someone gave an example of their cousin who left a work situation and when asked the reason why, said ‘it’s giving shackles’. That tweet, even though it’s funny, still stays with me because we sometimes find ourselves in situations that give us ‘shackle-vibes’, but we still choose to stay because sometimes as Nigerians we’re forced to identify with struggle as opposed to freedom because we’re like: ‘what if I leave and there’s nothing else out there?’
I love that Gen Z is like: ‘I’m leaving and if there’s nothing out there, I’ll stay until something good comes to me.’ So, they open themselves up to the universe and it’s really, really amazing. This Gen Z generation, they are very inspirational. I agreed with that.
What is your writing process: edit as you write or draft first, then edit?
I think people should ask me this question when my third book comes out.
Then I’ll tell you what my writing process is. Right now, I don’t have a particular structure locked down, so I can’t share any. But I’ll give another interview after my third book where I’ll completely detail my writing process for it so that writers who might want to look at my process and see if they can take something out of it will be able to do that.
I hope by God’s grace I’ll one day make a documentary on my writing process because I think it would be very nice. When people share knowledge, it helps to empower others.
I’m good with criticism because I think it helps you understand what people want and makes you better.
What inspired you to write Nearly All the Men in Lagos are Mad?
I was in my apartment, in between filming and praying. As I finished praying, the title came to me. Everything I do is strongly related to God; I lean heavily on that. So yeah, God inspired that title. And then of course I started writing. Two years ago, I didn’t know what it was going to become, and now, here we are. I thought it would first go to television before it became a book, but just look at God.
What surprised you the most about the reception to Nearly All the Men in Lagos are Mad?
People calling it soft porn. That was shocking. I would read reviews on people’s pages where I was tagged, and they would say things like: ‘this is just soft porn’. Someone actually said it read like a Nollywood movie, and I was like ‘Jesus Christ’.
But the most surprising thing was the love I’ve gotten so far. It has been overwhelming and amazing. I’ve had people encourage me—strangers that don’t know me are in my DMs telling me that they are rooting for me. In a world where people don’t root for others, it’s so comforting to know that there are good people who just root for you.
You’re an author and an actress. In what ways have your acting experiences influenced your writing?
I play the characters I write sometimes, because I kind of have to follow their stories. That’s a trick I learned from someone who said to me: ‘acting should help you become the characters so you can follow them well’. That’s what has helped me so far.
What advice would you give to your younger self on handling negative feedback?
Take it like a G and move on. And I did actually do that. I remember the first project I ever did. Someone wrote in a review: ‘this girl is a terrible actress, and she should never act again in her life.’ And I cried for days, you know. I would cry, read the review, cry again.
But now, things are different for me when people write stuff. I mean, someone wrote about Nearly All the Men in Lagos are Mad and said the only thing I worked on was the title. They literally said: ‘this author simply wrote the title and went to sleep’, meaning that I didn’t put any effort into the book, and I felt that it was good feedback. I actually retweeted it.
Now I’m good with criticism because I think it helps you understand what people want and makes you better. And for the criticisms that are just downright insulting, I’m like: ‘love, light and money dear, you will be fine. Let’s keep it moving.’
When people share knowledge, it helps to empower others.
Who are the artists you’re most excited about today (and why?)
Oh my God, Fireboy. I love him so much.
I think he’s such a fantastic voice and I think he understands art and music. I love Fireboy, but I’m also listening to BOJ. I’m loving the BOJ and Ajebutter22 vibe. They release really interesting music and it’s just amazing.
I watched Burna Boy’s most recent concert on YouTube, and I thought it was exceptional. I’m very much into Fireboy though, let’s just be clear, I think he makes amazing music. Every album he releases is a vibe to my life at that point. I can’t wait for his next one.
What is your favourite topic to write or read about these days? (Please include the names of articles and books, if possible)
I’m avidly following Johnny Depp’s trial—the defamation lawsuits that he filed against Amber Heard. I don’t know if that’s something that is inspirational, but I follow that because I’m trying to understand how human beings work and think.
Although I’m more of a visual person, which is interesting because I’m a writer.
I’m currently reading this book called The Days of Silence by Angel Patricks Amegbe. I love it. It’s amazing. I’m just getting into it and loving it all the way.
I enjoy watching reality television. I like shows like Keeping Up with The Kardashians, Selling Sunsets, and Abbott Elementary. But I’m hoping to get into other books.
I’m so eager to read people’s stories just like I’m eager for other people to read my own stories and books. I want to read what people bring out.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on myself. That’s such a cheeky answer, but it’s true. As for projects, when they come out, they come out. Nobody’s going to put me under pressure. But I’m working on myself.
Question from Aiwanose Odafen: When you’re not a writer, who or what are you?
I’m an actor, a creative, a director, a sister, my mum’s gossip partner and sometimes I’m a cook—when I’m in the mood. I’m a goofball—I’m literally the one who makes all my friends laugh because I don’t take myself seriously. I’m a child of God, always—that never leaves.
And yes, I’m sometimes the one who goes through madness in the hands of men, but we’ll all be fine.
Bonus: Please suggest a question for a future author’s First Draft
I don’t think I have a question. Instead, what I would say to a future author’s First Draft is: ‘thank you for writing the story and finishing it. I can’t wait to read it.’
Because I’m so eager to read people’s stories just like I’m eager for other people to read my own stories and books. I want to read what people bring out⎈
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