I remember when I began flipping through the pages of the book – OF WOMEN AND FROGS in December of 2017. I got an advanced copy from Farafina books and all I could think about was gifting a thousand copies to young girls in secondary schools. Before I was done, I knew I had to add it to my book club’s reading list for 2019. We read it in the month of March and had the rare privilege of having the author at the monthly meeting. This event was also featured on the CHANNELS TV BOOK CLUB.
Time could not let us exhaust all the questions we had for her and Bisi was kind enough to grant another interview. Bisi Adjapon is a force. I love her! This Interview was first published on THE KAWE AFRICA PLATFORM.
1) Why do you write? What keeps you motivated during writing slumps?I write because I can’t not write. I have these stories inside me, characters begging to be let out and live, that need to break out of the prison of my mind. Put in another way, it’s like being pregnant and perpetually in labor. I have to give birth or suffer.
2) As a child did you ever dream of becoming a writer? Like Esi, we see different ambitions and career paths? What was your childhood dream?
I always wanted to be a writer. Even as a child, I wrote short stories, plays and poems. My friends and I were always acting out the dramas I created. My first ambition though was to be a nurse. They looked crisp in the white aprons they wore over their uniforms, and white caps on their heads. I loved the power I imagined came with giving injections. I wanted to be the one to give them, as though by doing that, no one could hurt me with injections. Ever seen a nurse in uniform receiving a shot? Neither have I, haha. I also wanted to be an airline stewardess. They too wore uniforms and seemed to be in charge of airplanes. I think because children feel powerless, they are drawn to careers of apparent power. To a child, someone in a uniform is powerful. But ultimately, I wanted to write.
3) When did you realize writing was it? Can you describe the first time you felt you could really create beautiful stories?
I don’t think there’s a particular time I can point to. I wrote all the time. So did many of my friends. I thought everyone could write. If people didn’t, I assumed they just had no desire to pen stories. When I was a child, we used to gather around to tell stories.
Everyone took turns. I still think lots of people can write but choose not to. Writing involves isolating yourself, spending a lot of time with the characters and scenes who
become real to you. Not everyone wants that kind of life. I, on the other hand, love entertaining people with my stories. In high school, we used to have drama competitions. For our class performance, my teacher allowed me to write a play. Although we went on to win that year, I was very surprised when, on Speech Day, I won a prize for it. I didn’t think it was such a big deal. To me, writing was normal.4) The general rule is that for you to be a great writer, you must be a greater reader. Growing up, what books did you read? And how did they shape your ability to tell stories?
Reading was everything to me. It was my escape from housework and just about anything I didn’t want to do. I read African stories. I read the classics. I also gorged myself on light fare like Enid Blyton and then later on Mills and Boons and Barbara Cartland. Later, I went through a Perry Mason and detective stories phase. I read any book I came across, including some unsavory material featuring words like cock and pussy, if you get my drift. The more you read, the more you come to recognize what works and what doesn’t work, what stories appeal to you and which ones don’t. Next thing you know, you’re thinking of some characters and imagining where the story could have gone. You think of alternative scenarios and next thing you know, you’re creating your own stories. Many avid readers become writers or are capable of writing. That’s how it was with me. The stories I read germinated other stories within me.5) What are some of the struggles you face when you write?
I’m too easily distracted. Writing requires a lot of alone time, which is difficult, because I love tennis and dancing. I love hosting parties, so I find myself procrastinating in favor of hanging out with friends. Another distraction is social media. I’m learning not to reach for my phone first thing in the morning. However, when I have a deadline, I’m totally focused. I can write for hours at a time.
6) What writers are you friends with and how do they help you become a better writer?
I’m friends with many writers, both in Africa and beyond. I hate to mention names because I might miss someone and cause hurt feelings. Perhaps the one I’m closest to is Ayesha Haruna-Atta because, apart from having a lot in common with her, I spent time at her home in Senegal. She has been incredibly generous and supportive. She’s also a superb human. That’s the what matters most to me, character. Not fame or success. I’ve also been privileged to have Uwem Akpan as a mentor. Really, he’s more like family. All my writer friends cheer me on and share their experiences, which helps me know it’s okay not to say yes to every engagement. I’ve learned to be responsible for my own career. I don’t share my writing with fellow writers, nor do they share theirs with me. It’s burdensome to ask fellow writers to read or comment on your work when they have to focus on their on writing. What we share with one another is the journey, our hurts and fears, how to handle media, etc. I will say though that I once struggled with writing about sex. I bought into the prejudice that serious writers had to gloss over sex. One day, I wrote to Ken Follet to ask how he navigated that. He was kind enough to reply and encourage me.7) Who are some of your favourite authors? Which writer would you most likely want to have a drink with and why?
I’m glad you said “some”, because I have several favorites and I couldn’t name them all. I’d love to have drinks with Lola Shoneyin, Zukiswa Wanner, Ayesha, Chibundu Onuzo, and Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond. These are all humorous people. They know how to relax and have a great time. I like people who make me laugh.
8) What is the most liberating thought you have ever had and what did it liberate you from?
Liberating thought? I don’t know. Perhaps that sex is natural. That was a lesson learned from Erica Jong and Ken Follet. It allowed me to write fearlessly.9) Packing for a journey and allowed to take one book. What will it be?
I don’t know. It would have to be a book I can relax with, one I can read every night. An easy read with a happy ending, because I wouldn’t want to be miserable. It would have to be something like Confessions of a Shopaholic or a book of inspirational poems.
10) Recommend 5 books you think everyone should read.
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin, Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda, Liars Club by Mary Karr, Headscarves and Hymens by Mona Eltahawy, Hundred Wells of Salaga, by Ayesha Haruna Atta and God’s Bits of Wood by Sembene Ousmane. Why do you do this to me? I have many more to recommend. Anything by Jennifer Makumbi, for instance. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follet, etc. I’m sure I’ll wake up tomorrow and want to change the list. There’s so much wonderful literature out there!
Bisi Adjapon’s writings have appeared in journals and newspapers including the Washington Times, Daily Graphics and Chicken Bones. As an International Affairs Specialist for the U.S. Foreign Agricultural Service, she won the Civil Right Award for Human Relations, and a Strategic Objective Award for her work on the Norman Borlaug Capacity Building Fellows targeting women in developing countries. She holds degrees in French and Spanish and has worked in several embassies, taught and managed projects in Costa Rica, Mexico, South Africa and Ghana. Until recently, she was a language instructor at the Diplomatic Language School in Virginia. Currently, she divides her between Ghana and America. When not working, she plays tennis and loves to eat chocolate.
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