Author of The Woman Next Door, Yewande Omotosho (left); moderator, Molara Wood and author of Stay With Me, Ayobami Adebayo at Goethe Institut’s Literary Crossroads’ reading event… in Lagos
Goethe Institut’s second Literary Crossroad for the year, women still reigned as two female writers, Yewande Omotosho and Ayobami Adebayo, read extensively from their most recent works as they joined Molara Wood in a conversation. The Literary Crossroads series brings together African writers on the continent and from the Diaspora to discuss contemporary trends and themes in literature.
Omotosho, who was born in Lagos and grew up in Nigeria and Barbados before moving to settle in South Africa with her family in 1992, is the author of The Woman Next Door, which is her second novel after Bom Boy. The Woman Next Door has been longlisted for the Baileys Women Fiction Prize and was recently short-listed for the South African Sunday Times fiction prize.
In explaining what inspired the writing of her book, Omotosho said the idea was triggered at a period when she spent time with her grandmother in Barbados after she had lost her husband. She had the opportunity to share some intimate moments with her and in the process, “I began to wonder what it is to have both your life behind you and also what it is like to be with someone for over 60 years, and suddenly they aren’t there anymore. I began to sort of meditate on age and then as I started to develop the story, I thought it would be particularly interesting if you had both of your life behind you and even the present life you have is also quite disappointing.”
Continuing, she said, “The concept of history is so pertinent in the world; South Africa, in particular, and the history of its land. I grew up in Cape Town; a chunk of my life was lived there. A big part of the story for me was to hint in some places and dwell more on others on some of the invisible histories, particularly Cape Town.”
There is a continuous growth in the reception of The Woman Next Door in other parts of the world. As she noted, “What I am really happy about is that the rights of the book has been bought in various territories and it has been translated into German and Dutch and it will be translated into French and some other languages soon.”
Adebayo, author of Stay With Me holds, on the other hand, a Bachelor and masters in Literature in English from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, and Masters in Creative Writing from University of East Anglia, U.K., where she was awarded an international bursary for creative writing. Stay With Me is her debut novel and has been shortlisted for the Baileys Prize for Women’s Fiction.
Adebayo said she was inspired to write the novel after she lost a friend to Sickle Cell Anaemia, and she could not stop thinking about these people and also because they happened to be people who she lived with in the same environment.
“I started thinking about it since then, but I never sat down to write anything until about two years later,” she said.Stay With Me takes its roots in Ilesa, Osun State. This is deliberate on part of the author, as both of her parents hail from there, and because Ilesa is just 30 minutes away from where she lived as a child. In a sense, it was a second home and she visited regularly. She added that Ilesa felt like a natural place to set the book “because it is a place I am very familiar with.”
In explaining how relevant it is to incorporate historical facts in her book, Adebayo said, “Personally, I am a bit hesitant to writers’ compulsion to include history in their books. I want to write what I want to write. If you like it, I am very pleased. If you don’t, it’s unfortunate. I am personally very interested in history as I find it very fascinating. So, I always find ways to ‘smuggle’ some history into the book that I write.”