Nigerian journalist and author of Africa Is Not a Country, Dipo Faloyin, was frustrated by the fact that when most people think of Africa, they picture one of two things, poverty or safari: ‘I wanted to create something that both dispelled those myths while painting a comprehensive, reality-based picture of the past, present, and future of the continent.’
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 adored murder mysteries and autobiographies. I couldn’t get enough of whatever adventure Enid Blyton was publishing—specifically The Famous Five—and whatever life story of rags to riches my favourite wrestler or footballer was putting out. There is a symmetry to both genres, puzzles of persona, time and place that need fitting together.
If your life so far was a series of texts, which text (fiction or non-fiction) represents you at this moment?
That’s the essay: ‘How to Write About Africa’ by Binyavanga Wainaina.
What’s the last thing you read that changed your mind about something?
As a journalist, I’m constantly reading things that, at the very least, expand my knowledge and bring me a perspective that I’ve never heard before.
In terms of order, I tackled the hardest chapters first as I didn’t want to risk attempting them later on when fatigue would have likely set it.
What is your writing process: edit as you write or draft first, then edit?
My general process is: sketch, write, doubt myself as a writer, edit, feel good about myself as a writer, edit some more, move on. Luckily, I’m not afraid of a blank page so starting is not much of a hurdle for me, knowing that the real work of honing it through the editing process will come later.
What was your process for writing your book, Africa Is Not a Country?
I wrote the book during the pandemic so much of it was in the quiet solitude of lockdown. Because I write better in the mornings, I would do my research and sketching in the afternoons and evenings in preparation for the next day so I could immediately find my groove in the morning. I had the structure laid out in my proposal. Then in terms of order, I tackled the hardest chapters first as I didn’t want to risk attempting them later on when fatigue would have likely set it.
What’s the inspiration behind your book/Why did you decide to write this book?
I have grown up frustrated by the fact that when most people think of Africa, they picture one of two things: poverty or safari. They assume we are living in mud huts or have exotic giraffes or elephants as pets. I wanted to create something that both dispelled those myths while painting a comprehensive, reality-based picture of the past, present, and future of the continent.
Africa Is Not a Country offers a vivid portrait of modern Africa that pushes back against harmful stereotypes. What’s an interesting piece of information you discovered in your research process that didn’t make it to the book?
I’m fairly confident that I managed to fit in every interesting fact I found relevant to the book. But an earlier draft did have way more information about the 1994 Olympic-winning Super Eagles team that I may have to use in another book!
Africa Is Not A Country was inspired by the Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina’s 2005 Granta essay, ‘How To Write about Africa’. If you could add one more stereotype to Wainaina’s essay what would that stereotype be?
As I did in the book, I would add the stereotype of the way we are portrayed in Hollywood films: helpless extras whose only purpose is to help a New Yorker on safari find love with the only other American in the film.
I’m fortunate that my work as an editor has introduced me to many different cultures and realities that are alien to my own.
You’re a senior editor at VICE, and your work focuses on race, culture, and identity around the world. What’s the most memorable place you’ve visited through a piece of writing?
I’m fortunate that my work as an editor has introduced me to many different cultures and realities that are alien to my own. VICE has a focus on helping explain the world to young people and offering a voice for underrepresented communities. It’s hard to pick one but the most satisfying involves young people fighting for change. Covering the #EndSARS protests is probably the piece of journalism that has mattered most to me.
What’s a book you enjoyed that remains largely unknown to others?
What’s a book on your bookshelf that might catch people by surprise?
There is a copy of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn that always catches me by surprise because I never bought it and I have never read it. But it has followed to multiple homes and I’m not sure how or why.
Most of my reading was research papers and historical documents. But when I got stuck on how best to capture the emotions and people of a moment, I would turn to some fiction, even if it was just a couple of pages.
Do you lean towards books that evoke an emotional feeling or those that stimulate you intellectually?
I spend my days consuming the news and current affairs so I prefer to read books that help me to switch on and I can connect on an emotional level with well-rounded characters that can breathe new life into a tiring day.
What books did you read while you were working on Africa Is Not a Country?
Most of my reading was research papers and historical documents. But when I got stuck on how best to capture the emotions and people of a moment, I would turn to some fiction, even if it was just a couple of pages. For example, My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite is where I went for inspiration on how to write short, sharp prose that is entertaining and gets to the point. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe was a reminder of the human and cultural ramifications of colonialism.
What is the most meaningful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
‘Write as if you’re speaking to a smart friend.’ It speaks to the essential point that writing is about communicating and doing so with a familiar tone that people can easily understand.
What’s one word, line or quote that captures how this year has gone for you?
This question from an audience member at one of my book events: ‘So are you trying to say that Africa isn’t one big state?’
I spend my days consuming the news and current affairs so I prefer to read books that help me to switch on and those I can connect to on an emotional level with well-rounded characters.
What are you currently working on?
Nothing specific. I’m working through some ideas for a potential second book.
Question from Kuukuwa Manful: What seemingly small thing has made you smile/be happy recently?
Last week, a few friends and I started a WhatsApp group where we are just listing 1,100 Premier League players from memory for absolutely no reason at all. It’s wonderful.
Bonus: Please suggest a question for a future author’s First Draft
What three cities anywhere in the world would you pick to go on a writer’s retreat and why?⎈
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