Adeola Opeyemi is a writer and an oil painter. Shortlisted for the 2015 Writivisim Short Story prize, her story, Being a Man, gets an honourable mention at the Writivism festival. In this interview, she speaks of her writings, her love for books, feminism and Writivism.
with Pa Ikhide
Why do you write?
I write because I want to. I write because there are so many stories in this world begging to be told.
Have you always thought yourself a writer? Since when did you come to terms with the ‘title’?
I have always seen myself as a reader, the term writer came few years back even though I’ve been writing for a while.
I hear you do a bit of painting too. Are there often connections between the pictures you create and the words you write?
I am first of all a painter and it is painting I return to when words fail me. Painting like poetry and fiction is another form of telling stories.
You were born and raised in Nigeria. What are your honest views over regarding Nigeria a viable ground for the growth of artists?
I think the first mistake we make as artistes is to tell ourselves that our society doesn’t know our worth and therefore, we are going to sell ourselves cheap and wait for crumbs to be given to us. So, yes, our society isn’t exactly a fertile ground for artistes, but we have to learn how to take what is being offered and then demand for that which isn’t on the table.
How have you been able to cope with these challenges without giving in to weariness?
To me, writing is a labour of love and when you love something, it really doesn’t matter what obstacles are on your way, you keep wading on.
2015 presents itself as your year of illumination. Africa seems to have discovered a new literary voice which they can’t afford to lose. First, there was the CACE Writivism Workshop in which you were a participant. Next you were selected as one of the three residents for the Ebedi Writer’s Residency Program. The Writivism Short Story Prize, where your story, Being a Man, made it to the shortlist and got a honourable mention, is indeed the big one that has attracted many. What do these wins mean to you?
They mean I have to stop writing bad poetry and pretending nobody else is reading them but me. On a more serious note, they mean I have to take my writing more serious than I used to.
How long have you been writing and how difficult or easy has it been getting to this stage of recognition?
I started writing when I started growing boobs and that’s a long time ago. I won’t say my journey has been difficult because my career as a writer was not a race. I write for the fun of it and didn’t realise until a while ago that those works I pushed out and erased from my memory were piling up under my feet and raising me up.
Some people argue that literary workshops do not make one a better writer. What is your take on this, having attended quite a number of workshops?
Actually, I’ve only attended two. For me, a literary workshop is not about the facilitators telling you how they’ve been successful through their writings and how they think you have to take the same path as them to make it in the writing world, a workshop is about the other participants there with you. They are the kindred souls, they have the same problem as you and have fought the same beast as you and they are ready to join hands with you and swim towards discovery of new knowledge. These other participants are the reason I attend workshops because to me, they are the real teachers.
I read your Writivism shortlisted story, Being a Man and I totally enjoyed it. Do you have any regrets over not winning the prize?
Funny thing is, I consider myself a winner too. The moment my story made the top five out of hundreds, it became a winning story. Whatever other process decides a single winner is just a matter of who likes what and how many people like what. To me, the other shortlisted writers and I are also winners of 2015 Writivism competition.
with Pemi Aguda, winner 2015 Writism Short Story Contest
It doesn’t exactly matter then that you are not the one taking home 400dollars!
Hah. No, it doesn’t.
Now back to your story, Being a Man. Unlike many young female Nigerian writers who have female characters in their stories as victims of societal ills, you have chosen to create a balance by presenting to your readers deep and taunting struggles encountered by the male child in his attempt at being a man and one acceptable by all. Was this a conscious effort?
If you’ve read my other stories, you’ll realise my characters range from old to young, male to female. It doesn’t mean I’m biased towards a particular course or group, it just means I am first of all simply ‘a writer’ before I can be identified as a ‘female writer’ and I wouldn’t bend my story to follow a particular pattern or form just because the society expects it. So no, I write whatever story is in my head without trying to conform or go against any particular thread.
What then does Feminism mean to you?
It means I get to do what I want to do without anybody reminding me that I’ve got boobs and vagina and that should limit my goals and ambition in life.
Ha ha. Interesting.
Yes. Feminism is a wild branch, and it hurts to see ignorant people cast aspersion upon this great course.
While you are trying to get over this ‘hurt’, are there any projects you are embarking on? A book?
For now, I’m just a poet scribbling lines on serviettes and my palms.
It seems you write more poetry than prose.
Not excatly. I try to balance both.
Because your biography always says, ‘bibliophile’, I’m quite scared to ask what your best book or who your favourite writer is. There just may be so many of them that selecting one may keep both of us stuck here. So let’s help ourselves and simply ask: what books have made you better in writing?
I could go on and on mentioning books that have shaped me but the truth is I learn from every new book I read, including the so-called badly written ones.
And what remarkable thing has the Writivism experience taught you?
That a story is never finished; and every time I pick my pen, there is always something new to add or deduct from a work.
Boyfriend, fiancé, husband or just books?
Hmmm. These options look like I can’t pick more than one. I’m currently joined at the hips with my books but maybe someday soon we’ll make a space on the shelf for someone else.
Ha ha. Thank you, Adeola Opeyemi.
Thank you, Jennifer.