Editor, Ẹ́lọ́hór Ẹ́gbọ́rdí, believes the biggest misconception about African storytelling is that it is inferior to non-African storytelling: ‘No one can tell our stories better than us and on a world stage, we can go toe to toe with the best of them and even surpass them.’
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 don’t have any memory of being taught how to read. For as long as I’ve been conscious of myself as a person, I have loved reading. As a child, I read everything I could lay my hands on. I read old literature texts owned my aunts and uncles from both sides of the family. I also read encyclopaedias, receipts and shopping lists, newspapers, and then I read children’s story books and novels. Some of the books I read: The Trials of Brother Jero by Wole Soyinka, Lamb‘s Tales From Shakespeare, Zambia Shall Be Free by Kenneth Kaunda, Camara Laye’s The African Child, The Marriage of Anansewa by Efua Sutherland, She Stoops to Conquer by Oliver Goldsmith, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, almost all the books in the Lantern series and an awful lot of Mills and Boon before my teen years. My favourite book from my childhood is Without a Silver Spoon by Eddie Irroh.
If your life so far was a series of texts, which text (fiction or non-fiction) represents you at this moment?
Butter Honey Pig Bread by Francesca Ekwuyasi. Make no mistake, Taiye Adejide is my patronus.
As a child, I read everything I could lay my hands on. I read old literature texts owned my aunts and uncles. I also read encyclopaedias, receipts and shopping lists, newspapers, and then I read children’s story books and novels.
What’s the last thing you read and disagreed with?
Probably someone’s tweet or something. I’m always on Twitter.
What’s the last thing you read that changed your mind about something?
I never knew that camels have two rows of eyelashes per eye. That was mind-boggling. A manuscript I’m currently working on talks about it, and I made my findings and alas it is true!
You’re the International Rights Editor at Ouida Books. What does your job entail?
My job entails a lot of research into various book markets around the world. It involves some travelling as well, and a lot of editing and acting out book scenes to see what’s feasible. It’s a lot of interaction with authors, too.
As an editor, what’s more important to you: the story or how it is written?
This is a tough one. As an editor, the way a story is written could make or mar my day so it’s the latter (how it is written).
What’s your favourite thing about your job as an editor?
It’s being right about a manuscript. I could look at a story and be like, ‘Others will see the vision. This book will make waves.’ More often than not, I’m right about these things and I feel smug.
What is the most important contribution an editor makes to a piece of writing?
A good editor edits and proofreads a manuscript but a great editor puts themselves in the shoes of the reader. It is why it’s important to be a reader first; it makes your job much easier.
I felt seen the first time I read A Spell of Good Things by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀. It is such a vivid portrayal of the current state of things in Nigeria.
What’s a common misconception about African storytelling?
The biggest misconception about African storytelling is that it is somehow inferior to non-African storytelling. No one can tell our stories better than us and on a world stage, we can go toe to toe with the best of them and even surpass them. We have seen this play out time and time again.
And what do we need to do differently, if at all anything, to correct this misconception?
All we need to do is be us and spread the word. We have the talent, but we still need more resources. We are doing great work regardless and I am so proud of us.
What’s the best book you’ve read so far this year, and why?
The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa by Stephen Buoro. It is not often that you find a coming-of-age story set in modern northern Nigeria about a young poet who’s also a science geek. The nerd in me was pleased the first time I read it.
What do you think makes a great story?
The elements that make up a great story are most times subject to the needs of the reader at a particular point in time. But it is universally acknowledged that a great story makes the editor(s) proud to go to bat for it and it also makes readers genuinely feel seen.
Who are the young/new African authors you’re most excited about today (and why?)
I’m very excited to see first-time authors like Stephen Buoro, Aiwanose Odafen, and many others. This is because they’re not just great writers and storytellers but also because they have such an astounding work ethic. I can’t wait to see how far they go because the sky is the starting point.
What is your favourite topic to write or read about these days? (Please include the names of articles and books, if possible)
These days, I read books about migration. The japa phenomenon is hitting my generation hard and I think people need to know the reality of what life abroad is like. Daughter in Exile by Bisi Adjapon and Travellers by Helon Habila explain this so well. When The Sky is Ready The Stars Will Appear by E. C. Osondu talks about the journey and its perils. I write about my feelings (sometimes) and review books I read and love.
The elements that make up a great story are most times subject to the needs of the reader at a particular point in time.
Question from Nancy Adimora: When’s the last time a book or a piece of writing made you feel seen?
I felt seen the first time I read A Spell of Good Things by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀. It is such a vivid portrayal of the current state of things in Nigeria. I see myself in its characters, in its plot and so much more. It’s a beautiful piece of literature and the author deserves all her flowers.
Bonus: Please suggest a question for a future author’s First Draft
What was the first book you read that made you realize you wanted to write books?⎈
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