Thoughts on (lack of) reading, blogging (fatigue) & discourse with writers versus readers

Long time, no blog! It’s been a while since I posted a book review or book chat… or content, in general. It’s crazy how I started this book blog when I commenced dental school in 2014 and I’m now a Dentist working at a major teaching hospital – praise God! Life is very different now – it’s mostly filled with me looking in peoples’ mouths, making diagnoses, admitting patients with head/neck injuries or infections to the hospital, in the operating room (theater) assisting in head & neck surgeries, extracting, restoring and cleaning teeth.

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When I was a dental student, I succeeded in reading for about 40 minutes a day prior to studying. Nowadays after work, I’m usually very tired and resort to watching a TV series or YouTube, instead of reading and finishing books I start.

Reading while I was in dental school was a huge coping mechanism for me. Now, indulging (heavily) in TV shows, making and receiving music playlists, reading short pieces online + magazines and napping bring me joy as well. But in general, it’s been really challenging to read during this pandemic (especially during the lockdown period), and I know I’m not alone. So many other readers have been finding it difficult to focus on their hobbies and some readers are now finally getting their reading groove back. In an effort to get my reading juices flowing again, I joined two book clubs this year: Ghana Must Read Book Club (where we read Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami) and Harare Book Club (where we [re-]read So Long A Letter by Mariama Bâ).

Do book blogs/websites still exist?? With Instagram (or Bookstagram – the section of Instagram dedicated to ALL things books) taking everyone’s attention nowadays, does the average reader even take the time to peruse their favorite bookish websites and engage with the content that book bloggers painstakingly create? Some of the thoughtful book blogs by Black readers/writers I’ve loved since 2014/2015 haven’t been updated in a looong time. Some of these book blogs are/were: Incessant Scribble, Kinna Reads, Mary Okeke Reviews, Reading Pleasure, Bookshy, Brown Girl Reading, The Storyscape, Rowena (on Goodreads), Lynecia (on Goodreads), Reading Has Purpose by Shannon, Folklore and Literacy by Leslie Reece etc. These Black readers/writers have either moved on (to Bookstagram, TikTok or BookTube) or just haven’t found the time or interest to frequently post content on their sites. But I know about 80% of them are still reading and engaging with books in their own private spaces, just not as publicly as before. Very few of my favorite literary sites/ book blogs are still going strong, like Zezee With Books, Paperback Social, K E Garland, JHOHADLI.

It’s really interesting to see how the book review/book blogging sphere has ‘evolved’. Now with influencer culture being so prevalent, the number of followers on your social media (especially Bookstagram) determines your relevance or importance. Receiving physical advance review copies (ARCs) of books to be published is now a super-duper badge of honor. This new influencer culture around books creates a hierarchy of importance amongst readers and book bloggers, and alienates a lot of people who lack access to popular books of the moment. It’s wild how this influencer culture can easily cause burnout too, with Bookstagrammers working so hard against the algorithm to be seen! You want your photos on Bookstagram to get the most likes and you want your follower count to rise so that publishers can start noticing you and you’re eligible to receive ARCs – which will enable you to flaunt on the ‘gram to let your peers know you’re ‘important’. It’s so easy to get sucked into this rat race when your hobby of reading was primarily soothing and free of this anxiety around reading socially.

The new influencer culture looks fun for those who love the challenge of constantly creating content to stay relevant, but it has created a foul competitive nature to blogging, which is tiresome – in MY opinion. Obviously, not everyone on Bookstagram strives to be an ‘influencer’ (by the way, I hate that word), but it’s disheartening for some readers who post compelling captions/reviews and don’t receive meaningful engagement because their follower count is low (I know ‘low’ is relative, please ooo). Don’t get me wrong- the community of readers who avidly read socially is pretty amazing; real friendships have been born out of our shared love (or hate) of certain books… but sometimes I almost miss the days where reading was a bit more intimate without the noise of social media, the hype reviews and the constant need to keep up with new releases.

Another layer to my fatigue is how readers on the continent of Africa aren’t really part of the global reading ecosystem. Readers in Africa don’t push sales for (Western) publishing houses, so we aren’t a priority. I only have access to popular books from publishers because they are delivered to my homes in the US and the UK. But what about other readers who live in countries in Africa that don’t have addresses outside of the continent? Publishers rarely mail books to my address here in Accra; the only times I received books here in Accra were because the authors pushed for them to be sent directly to me- thank you Zinzi Clemmons, Ayesha Harruna Attah and Maame Blue.

It’s mind-boggling how publishing houses want select African book bloggers on the continent to market their books, yet they can’t make any accommodations in their budgets to mail at least 20 physical ARCs of interest to book bloggers on the African continent (apparently this excludes South African book bloggers[?]). I know the lack of vibrant publishing houses here in Ghana has a role to play in this issue. But besides access to ARCs, it’s rare that book bloggers here on the continent are included in certain book campaigns and paid promotions of popular books by our Black writers. Buying new books is also expensive here in Accra – you need at least GH₵ 100 to purchase a book, and it won’t even be a hardback. So for me, all of these things culminated together have dimmed my fire a bit. Obviously, I’ll always be a reader. I’ll continue to post my book reviews and discuss literary happenings on my platform. But these blatant inequalities in the global reading ecosystem have been quite disappointing.


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Flyer for the three-way event with Ghanaian women writers.

In August, I had the privilege of moderating a wonderful reading event with three brilliant Ghanaian women writers – Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, Nana Oforiatta Ayim and Ayesha Harruna Attah. It was a dream come true to be in the midst of Ghanaian women writers that I admire and have loudly celebrated on this platform (via #ReadGhanaian) since 2017. The event was held at Studio 189 in Osu, with an audience of about 50 people in total. The venue was cute and the event was pretty rich and vibrant.

After the event, I realized how starkly different it is to discuss books with writers versus readers. When I’m discussing literature with writers, it’s usually in the presence of an audience, in a Q & A format. There is some level of performance on my part, as I try and ask questions that would give the audience context to the books being discussed, while avoiding spoilers as much as possible. Unless I’m out to dinner with a writer, I don’t feel like I’m able to truly be myself because of the audiences’ presence and my nerves acting up as I try to sound intelligent in keeping the conversation flowing spontaneously.

Flyer of the virtual readers’ discussion on Sekyiamah’s collection.

On the other hand, discussing literature with fellow readers feels more laid-back. I’m able to divulge my truest feelings when discussing books/characters/storylines; and just fellowshipping with other readers without an audience feels comfortable and less performative. Two weekends ago, I had a virtual discussion with some readers on Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah’s debut collection, and it felt wholesome! About fifteen womxn RSVP’d, but only five showed up – which was still great. While some readers were not able to finish the book, it was still an eye-opening, nuanced conversation. When I was in dental school, I didn’t have the luxury of time to join book clubs, as I had to focus on school material. And when I was in college (Middlebury College, VT), discussing Black books felt anthropological, so my African American literature class discussions tended to feel flat and very academic. Joining the Ghana Must Read bookclub allowed me to really enjoy discussing books with a group of people who came into the discussion with different perspectives. Maybe I should start a bookclub?


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Currently Reading:

I’ve read some timeless gems this year. The best book I’ve read thus far is The Sex Lives of African Women by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah. I might have a review up soon – even though I really don’t have the words to do that collection justice. I’m currently reading fellow Ghanaian-American Zeba Blay’s debut – Carefree Black Girls: A Celebration of Black Women in Popular Culture – which is radically vulnerable and honest, in all the good ways. I’ve attended a couple of her virtual conversations on her book tour and I truly appreciate her deep thought and her love for Black womxn. I’m also finishing up Mikki Kendall’s Hood Feminism: Notes From the Women White Feminists Forgot on Audible – which is sooo smart, thorough and relevant. I have a true understanding of Black feminism, thanks to Mikki Kendall.

Immediate TBR:

Has anyone read The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw? Jouelzy’s #SmartBrownGirl book club raved about it in September, so I just had to get a copy! I’m excited to get to it soon.

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Last but not least, here’s a music playlist that I’m most proud of. It’s a long-form mélange of: Indie Soul, Neo-Soul, Indie R&B, Jazz, Funk & J Dilla inspired Hip hop. 118 songs for a duration of 8 hours : 30 minutes. Enjoy this playlist with some Palm Wine!

A Spotify Playlist: PalmWine Seltzer, by me. Enjoy

BOOK CHAT :: WITH FRANCES MENSAH WILLIAMS

Any fans of Frances Mensah Williams’ work in the house? I’ve been slowly working my way through some compelling Black Brit reads and Williams’ work has been on my radar for a hot minute! Frances Mensah Williams is a Ghanaian-British author of many books. If you remember, back in 2017 she was one of the 80+ Ghanaian writers highlighted in the 3-part series I did on Ghanaian writers and their books. Her latest novel – Imperfect Arrangements, was published back in March and from the synopsis, this novel looks juicy and satisfying!

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Check out the synopsis for Imperfect Arrangements below:

There are two sides to every story…

In the sun-soaked capital of Ghana best friends Theresa, Maku and Lyla struggle with the arrangements that define their relationships.

Ambitious, single-minded Theresa has gambled everything to move with her loving husband Tyler from London to cosmopolitan Accra. But when shocking developments threaten their plans, they also expose the hidden cracks in her fairytale marriage.

Feisty Maku is desperate for professional recognition – and her dream white wedding. But how long can she wait for her laid-back partner Nortey to stop dreaming up pointless projects from the comfort of his local bar and stand up to his family?

Churchgoing Lyla married Kwesi in haste, and six years later she is desperate for a child. But while she battles a vicious mother-in-law, and her growing attraction to the mysterious Reuben, her husband has bitten off more than he can chew with his latest mistress.

Facing lies, betrayal, and shattered illusions, each couple must confront the truth of who they have become and the arrangements they have enabled. Against the backdrop of a shifting culture, each woman must decide what – and who – she is willing to sacrifice for the perfect marriage.

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I had the honor of chatting with Williams about her novels, the first book she read by a Ghanaian writer, Black writers who influence her work and more. Enjoy!

(note – ‘FMW’ represents Frances Mensah Williams’ responses)

  • I recently purchased From Pasta to Pigfoot, and I know there is a sequel called From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings. I’m eager to read your latest novel, Imperfect Arrangements, which was published back in March of this year. How long have you been a writer and what other books have you written?

FMW: I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember; from the early scribbles of my teen years to writing careers books and then, eventually, writing novels.

I’m so pleased you bought From Pasta to Pigfoot! It’s my first novel and very special to me. I wrote the initial draft years ago when I was living and working in Ghana. I wanted to explore the contemporary diaspora experience with the character of Faye Bonsu, a Black British Londoner and pasta fanatic, who’s torn between the culture she’s grown up with and the Ghanaian culture she’s supposed to connect with. Her story mirrors so many of the challenges young Britons of African descent face, and I wanted to depict how navigating between two cultures can be painful, illuminating and occasionally hilarious. In the novel, Faye gets the chance to visit Ghana and discovers that understanding your history can give you the confidence to choose your future.

There is indeed a sequel – From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings. This picks up Faye’s story three years after the end of the original book. Hoping to escape from her suddenly complicated life and revive her wilting romance, Faye returns to sunny Ghana for what she hopes will be the time of her life. But life doesn’t always offer second chances and when disaster strikes, she is forced to confront the biggest question of her life and to make a choice that comes with consequences she will have to live with forever. I really enjoyed writing this book because Faye’s experiences are so relatable: the boyfriend who never seems ready to commit, the merciless boss who makes you struggle for promotion, the mother-in-law that drives everyone crazy, the bridezilla you love but want to kill – and the struggles we face when we’re trying to have it all!

 


  • I read an excerpt of Imperfect Arrangements, in the form of a short story, on AFREADA. In the excerpt, Theresa is at the hospital and she’s shocked to find out that she’s pregnant. By the end of the story, I really wanted to indulge in the lives of the three best friends – Theresa, Maku and Lyla. Why was it important for you to write this story that focuses on three best friends who struggle with the arrangements that define their relationships?

FMW: I first had the idea for Imperfect Arrangements when I was living in Ghana and found myself fascinated by the many arrangements that passed as marriage. As is the case in every part of the world, a perfect relationship really doesn’t exist, and when you layer cultural expectations onto the strains of any relationship, the pressure it brings will reveal the truth.

In Imperfect Arrangements, I chose to write about best friends Theresa, Maku and Lyla because I wanted to celebrate the importance of sister-friends and depict an honest account of the complexity of relationships, both romantic and between best friends. I wanted to explore the joy and pain of relationships, particularly with the added pressures of cultural expectations and norms, and to tell the story from the perspectives of both the women and the men in their lives. Unusually, we also see the story unfold from the viewpoints of the three men in the relationships.

 


  • Did you learn anything about yourself while writing Imperfect Arrangements? What about your previous novels – especially From Pasta to Pigfoot and From Pasta to Pigfoot: Second Helpings?

FMW: That is an interesting question! I think I learned a lot as a writer while working on Imperfect Arrangements. The story takes place over one year and is structured in layers – every three months – with the action unfolding through the eyes of each person in the three couples. It was quite a challenge to keep the story moving at pace while ensuring that the characters grew into rounded and realistic people. The three women are very different to each other and, much as they love one another, they also experience the frustration and irritation that we all feel with our besties – loving them, but still keeping it honest and real!

I think this is a story that no-one can read without examining their own relationships and friendships. Although the three couples face different challenges, their situations reflect what so many people grapple with: lies, betrayal, adultery, interfering families, stagnant careers, and more.

Writing From Pasta to Pigfoot was an interesting journey for me; seeing Ghana through the eyes of Faye and depicting her struggles to connect both aspects of her cultural identity. Having myself mostly grown up outside Africa, although Faye and I are very different personalities, I could empathise with her feelings and her dilemma about where to call home.

 


  • Some writers dislike being ‘pigeon-holed’ and labelled as ‘African writer’ or ‘Black writer.’ How do you prefer to be identified as a writer? Who do you write for and do you think your novels can be categorized under one genre?

FMW: This is something I get asked a lot. There’s so much debate what constitutes ‘African’ writing and who gets to be called what or has the authority to tell which stories. Because of my heritage and some of the settings in my books, I’m often asked whether I consider myself to be an African writer, a diaspora writer or (sometimes with a slight tinge of disappointment) just a romance writer.

As far as I’m concerned, I’m just writing stories, but the publishing world likes to pigeonhole books for marketing purposes. Broadly, my books fall into the category of ‘commercial women’s fiction’ and for some people that’s enough. There are also those who describe it as ‘chick lit’, which doesn’t offend me, although I know many men who enjoy them, so I’m not sure that properly reflects the content.

For me, what really matters is that readers see my characters as more than simply their ethnicity. By setting Imperfect Arrangements in Ghana, one of my hopes is that it takes the conversation beyond the issue of race, as all the main characters are African. I also hope my books show that irrespective of our backgrounds, we all share the same desires for love of self, love of others, being seen and belonging. So, to answer your question, I’m an African woman and a writer, but I guess I’ve now reached the point where I leave the labelling to those who find it useful, while I focus on writing stories people can enjoy.

 


  • What have you been reading and loving lately? Who are some of your favorite Black writers and influencers of your work?

FMW: I enjoy many different types of books – a legacy from being a book addict as a child and reading anything which sounded halfway interesting that I could get my hands on in the local library. I love character driven stories with lots of dialogue: courtroom dramas, rom-coms, thrillers, murder mysteries, biographies, historical dramas – you name it.

My favourite Black writers include Dorothy Koomson, whose books I love, and Terri McMillan, whose books I read voraciously. If I’m honest, I’m probably not as widely read when it comes to African writers, but I’ve really admired the work of fellow Ghanaians, Yaa Gyasi and Ayesha Harruna Attah.


  • In 2017, you were featured in my 3-part series #GHat60 project, where I highlighted and celebrated over 80 writers of Ghanaian descent (which later became the #ReadGhanaian book challenge, in 2019). Do you remember the first book you read by a Ghanaian writer? If so, what book was it and how was the experience?

FMW: I guess that would be probably be The Chocolate Run by Dorothy Koomson. I was attracted to the novel because her name was clearly Ghanaian, and I was desperate to discover Black writers who also wrote commercial, contemporary, women-driven novels. When I read The Chocolate Run, I was blown away by the realisation that there was indeed a market for books about serious issues written in a fun way, and featuring Black female protagonists who were firmly at the centre of the story, instead of at the margins.

 


  • Finally, why would you like us to read your latest novel – Imperfect Arrangements? What would you like reader to take away from the story?

FMW: I would love you to read Imperfect Arrangements firstly because – if I say so myself – it’s a great story! I love the characters and I want to take the reader on a roller coaster journey as they get to know the women and their partners. I want you to laugh, cry, grow very frustrated, and cheer! I want every reader to feel exactly what drives and motivates each of the six main protagonists, and to understand what makes them who they are and why the behave as they do.

I want the story of Imperfect Arrangements to provoke a conversation about the themes that arise in the novel: relationships in contemporary Ghana/Africa; myths and expectations confronted by the realities of marriage; friendship and sisterly love between women; the impact of culture on marriage and attitudes towards adultery and infertility in contemporary Ghana/Africa; the power of family versus the individual; the diaspora returnee experience; and the Black male perspective on relationships.

I also want readers to realise that love – whether it is love of self or love between friends or lovers – is the greatest gift of all.

 

Purchase Imperfect Arrangements on Amazon

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Check out the 80+ Ghanaian writers that were highlighted in last year’s 3-part series below:

Cover Reveal + Q&A | The Deep Blue Between by Ayesha Harruna Attah

Hello everyone!

It’s been a very trying time, worldwide. I hope everyone is staying (home) safe and not allowing COVID-19 to get us down. Hopefully, all this chaos will subside sooner than later – let’s stay positive!


Anyone who frequents this book blog knows I admire the work of Ghanaian writer, Ayesha Harruna Attah. I’ve read (and reviewed) all of her books and I just really resonate with her writing – the subject matter, the writing style, the character-driven plots etc. In my annual post on New Books To Anticipate this year, I mentioned that she would be releasing a YA novel. Today, we are revealing the book cover of this new novel – The Deep Blue Between, which will be published by Pushkin Press in October 2020!

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Check out the synopsis for The Deep Blue Between below:

A sudden, brutal slave raid tears twins Hassana and Vitória apart, taking them far away from each other. Hassana goes to Accra, where she builds a new family and finds a place for herself in the political world; Vitória goes to Salvador, Bahia where she lives and works with a Priestess, worshipping the gods of the motherland.

But no matter the different obstacles and adventures they encounter, the sisters never forget one another. They remain bound together by their dreams, and slowly their fates begin to draw them back together.

Rich in historical detail, this epic, moving novel evokes a time of great change in West Africa, when slavery has been abolished but colonialism is taking hold, through the lives of two bold young women who are shaping their changing society.

[Cover design by Helen Crawford-White]

A TEEN FEMINIST EPIC OF LOVE, COURAGE AND DETERMINATION

I connected with Ayesha for some insight into The Deep Blue Between. Enjoy our short book chat below, where she talks about the inspiration for her forthcoming novel and gives us a sneak-peek into the main characters!

(note – ‘AHA’ represents Ayesha Harruna Attah’s responses)

  • The Deep Blue Between is your 4th forthcoming novel, congratulations on this achievement! The book cover is so vibrant and glorious. It feels like yesterday that your 3rd novel, The Hundred Wells of Salaga was published. What was your inspiration for this new novel and how long did it take you to write?

AHA: Thank you! The Hundred Wells of Salaga was the direct inspiration for The Deep Blue Between. This new novel follows twins Hassana and Vitória after they are separated in a human caravan – the same one which sent Aminah to Kintampo and then on to Salaga. Hassana and Vitória are Aminah’s little sisters! After writing The Hundred Wells of Salaga, I couldn’t let go of the girls and had to find out what happened next. Since I knew the sisters well – or at least what they were like at age nine – the story poured out of me and I was able to complete a first draft of the book in five months.


  • From my knowledge of your previous novels, this is your first book in the (Young Adult) YA genre. Did this genre affect your approach in writing The Deep Blue Between? Does writing a YA novel target a specific audience?

AHA: Yes, it is my first YA book, but in my second novel Saturday’s Shadows, Kojo, one of the four protagonists, is a teenager. I had such a good time writing his character that I was excited for the chance to do so again, even if this time I was working with teenagers living in the 19th century. I let the girls guide me and just wrote the story. It was in rewriting that I started worrying about which parts might have been a stretch for a young adult reader.

Even though I wanted to write a book that teenage Ayesha would have loved to get lost in, I also know that when done well, even adults love YA!


  • What was the best part about writing Hassana and Vitória’s dynamic?

AHA: I think it was the magic of their journeys. It almost felt as if I were a medium. All I had to do was allow my senses to be open to let their stories in. I also especially loved researching the worlds of Accra, Lagos, and Bahia in the 1890s.


  • While reading Harmattan Rain, I saw bits of my life reflected in Sugri’s character and in The Hundred Wells of Salaga, Wurche’s character traits mirrored some of mine. How much of your personal life is seeped into The Deep Blue Between?

AHA: My family is filled with twins, so I tried to tap into that energy to write The Deep Blue Between; even my last name – Attah – means twin. Although Hassana and Vitória are so different, it’s inevitable that they both have parts of me. While I probably identify more with Vitória’s introversion, some of Hassana’s compulsions are totally mine!


  • Why would you like readers to indulge in your forthcoming, The Deep Blue Between? What would you like us to take away from the story?

AHA: I really enjoyed working on The Deep Blue Between and I hope the reader feels that sense of joy and wonder that kept me going as I wrote. It’s a fantastic story about the connection between people, and the unseen things that are at work in this strange world of ours – the strength of community and the power of dreams.

Special thanks to Elise Jackson, Poppy Stimpson (of Pushkin Press) + the rest of the team at Pushkin Press and Ayesha Harruna Attah for this wonderful Cover Reveal collaboration!

Pre-order The Deep Blue Between on Amazon


P.S: GHANAIAN readers – stay tuned for a giveaway of The Deep Blue Between, soon!

Check out my thoughts on Ayesha Harruna Attah’s novels:

Harmattan Rain | Saturday’s Shadows | The Hundred Wells of Salaga 

#ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 Book chat with Ayesha Harruna Attah

#ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 updates / check-in

Hello everyone! How is the #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge going? The year isn’t over yet!

So far I’ve only read 3 out of the 5 books for the challenge. I’m currently a final year dental student and it’s been a struggle to find time to read recently, but I am determined to complete the book challenge. I’m currently reading Tampered Press Vol. 2 – Braided Quilt. This edition of the magazine features many more stories by young Ghanaian writers, which are excellent so far.

On my #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 TBR, I want to read Black Gold of The Sun by Ekow Eshun, From Pasta to Pigfoot by Frances Mensah-Williams and complete The Prophet of Zongo Street by Mohammed Naseehu Ali. This is an ambitious TBR if I’m being honest, but I will complete this challenge oh!

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My artist brother – AduKofs, created a cool template for the #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge! To those who are unfamiliar, templates are pretty popular on Instagram/ Bookstagram. This template is to help those participating in the book challenge to track the books they’ve read thus far.

Share the books you’ve read by posting the filled-in template on your Instagram stories or Facebook and Twitter for others to see which books they are missing out on! Including the hashtag also helps others see what books by writers of Ghanaian descent are out there! If you are not active on social media, you can print out this template and simply record the books you have read or plan to read for the book challenge.

Template created by AduKofs

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Last month, the Malala Fund featured African Book Addict! and the #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge on their digital publication and newsletter – Assembly. It was such an honor to shed light on this book challenge with Malala’s audience! Do check out the feature if you have time. Thanks again to the Malala Fund Assembly team!

via the Malala Assembly feature

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For more recommendations of books by writers of Ghanaian descent, check out:

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books part 1

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books part 2

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books part 3

+ Kid Lit recommendations by Booksie:

#ReadGhanaian🇬🇭: KidLit Edition

Please note: These recommendations are not exhaustive by any means! The book challenge includes even reading short stories/non-fiction by writers of Ghanaian descent in anthologies, magazines, cookbooks, poems etc. 

 

What books have you read thus far for the #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge? Please share some of your reads!

You Too Will Know Me by Ama Asantewa Diaka (Poetra Asantewa)

Date Read: July 16th 2019

Published: June 11th 2019

Publisher: Akashic Books

Pages: 30

 The Blurb

“Here is a poet whose practiced weaving of talk and song is a testament to her devotion to language and her clarity of vision. Those of us who have encountered Diaka with excitement invite you to listen with us as she offers us a new song, one which will surely not be her last” – Tjawandwa Dema

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Review – ★★★★ (4 stars)

You Too Will Know Me is a chapbook that reads like a series of confessions, in an effort to better love and accept oneself. Through the sincere truths and feelings revealed, Diaka shows that ‘any day is a good day for redemption’, that there is joy in the morning and we can all start over again. Most of the poems speak to the challenges of adulthood, abandonment of lovers, unrequited love, (un)forgiveness, feminine strength + beauty and more.

Diaka’s writing style is bold – bold enough to have the words ‘God’ and ‘blowjob’ in the same stanza! Bold enough to capture the essence of what it’s like to be deeply disappointed in your home country for not loving its citizens enough (from my favorite poem – And I’ve Mastered The Art of Receiving Hand-Outs Because I Come From This Place).

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Favorite quotes from various poems in the chapbook:

‘how do I distract myself from myself in order to free myself?’ – Before The Gag, page 12

‘What’s the English word for someone who still has hope in lovers who cause too much anxiety?
Tell me so I can spit it out.’ – Spit, page 13

‘Damn everybody!
Do they not know
that the sun borrows light from your fingertips?
Do they not know
that you give color to the rose?
Do they not know
that your breath is studied by the highest of connoisseurs
to make the best perfumes?
There’s something about you
that makes looking away impossible’ – Suicide Sarah, page 15

‘I am hungry for a love my country cannot afford…
I want a love
that doesn’t require me to be ridiculously multifaceted
in order to have a fraction of an equation at being equipped for survival;
a love that doesn’t wait for another suitor to sing the praises of my genius
before recognizing my worth,
or worse, only after I’m dead.
I am hungry for a love my country cannot afford,
the way white lusts for a backdrop to outshine.

And I’ve Mastered The Art of Receiving Hand-Outs Because I Come From This Place, page 18

‘I have been fretting over things that God shakes his head at
toying with faith as if it were a disappearing act.
One minute I’m full of it,
the next, I don’t exactly know the shape of it.
I fret over now and tomorrow,
giving myself and God a headache.
Spoon feed myself faith,
and come up hungry again…’ – Let It Be, page 22

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Bloom is an unapologetically Ghanaian poem, that reads like a vivid short film. In the poem, the narrator takes readers to Accra, Ghana- Labadi, to be precise. The narrator describes the ordinary Ghanaians she sees on the road, simply living. The laugh and smiles of a porridge seller – Ms. Atta, keeps her customers coming for more, despite the deep pain and hurt she feels within.

‘These people teach me,
that if you are from Accra and you are placed anywhere in
the world,
there’s no way you won’t know how to bloom’ – Bloom, page 24

This collection is meant to be read more than once. Multiple readings will reveal different truths – about the poet and even you, the reader! Diaka’s work allows readers to meditate and examine their feelings towards their present lives. You Too Will Know Me is honest, visceral and necessary. Also, it’s Ghanaian AF!

★★★★ (4 stars) – Great book. Highly recommend!

You Too Will Know Me is part of a series published by Akashic Books in collaboration
with the African Poetry Book Fund:
New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set (Sita) (African Poetry)

Purchase it on Amazon

KidLit Book Chat | with founder of Booksie, Edem Torkornoo

Children’s literature is a genre I rarely blog about. I don’t have any children yet, so kid literature is almost never on my radar. But there are sooo many African/Black authors writing phenomenal books for children nowadays. Last year, Edem Torkornoo founded BOOKSIE, which is a pan-African child-focused company on a mission to inspire young African readers by intentionally giving them access to books that tell African realities.

This week in celebrating Ghanaian excellence, I chat with Edem Torkornoo as we discuss Booksie, the Booksie Box (which ships worldwide!), African children’s literature + some recommendations for children aged 3-12!

(note – ‘ET’ represents Edem Torkornoo’s responses)

[image via mybooksiebox.com]

•••

  • Booksie as a pan-African company primarily focuses on making children’s literature more accessible. Why did you decide to focus on kidlit?

ET: It’s something that came to me naturally. I’m a huge bookworm and I’ve always loved working and playing with children. I enjoy their company so kidlit allows me to bring my two loves together.

Looking back though, I think my interest in kidlit piqued when I heard about Deborah Ahenkorah and the Golden Baobab Prize in my first year of college, so that would be 2009. I found it fascinating that Deborah had started a prize to promote African literature for children and it stuck with me.

As I went through college and started working, I explored my interests and realised that I want to create entertainment (books and TV shows) for African children and I want that entertainment to have characters that look like the children they are for. I want my nephews Ian (5) and Joel (3) and cousins Nana Araba (5) and Afua (2) to see themselves in books and on TV. You can call them my muses. There’s something very powerful about representation and it may not always be obvious but seeing images of people who look like you in the media you consume does something to your confidence.

 


  • What’s My Booksie Box all about? How does it work?

ET: My Booksie Box is Booksie’s flagship product. It’s a subscription service that curates children’s books written by African authors and/or with primarily African characters and delivers it individuals and schools on a regular basis. The books are categorized by age (3-5; 6-8; 9-12 years-old) and subscribers can choose how often they want to receive books (monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly).

My Booksie Box has three main goals:

  • make children’s books written by African authors easily accessible
  • nurture a love of reading
  • give authors and publishers on the continent a channel to sell their work.

We’ve also created the Afterschool Book Club, a community for young book lovers that runs from 3-7pm weekly. We work with children who are just learning to read and help them to improve their proficiency. On one hand, children get to read a good book, do their homework and explore their passions through engaging in creative activities. On the other hand, parents are able to bridge the gap between school and home time by leaving their children in a safe environment. We call it a win-win situation.

Finally, we host book club events on the weekend so that children who can’t make it to the weekday one are still able to join the community.

[images kind courtesy from Booksie]

 


  • Are books selected for the subscription box primarily by African authors or other Black authors? Will Booksie include children’s books by other Black authors?

ET: Yes, the books are primarily by African authors but we’ve discovered some amazing books with African characters or based on African cities that are written by non-Africans so we will include them. There are also African writers who have written fantastic books with non-African characters so we’ve started to relook at our selection criteria.

We’re open to books by Black authors but the primary focus is those written by Africans.

 


  • How do you select the books & genres featured in the Booksie Box? Is there a plethora of writers and books to choose from?

ET: There are 3 main criteria:

  1. Is the book written by an African author and does it have primarily African characters?
  2. Is the book telling a fun, engaging and memorable story that children can relate to?
  3. Does the book have beautiful, eye-catching illustrations? This is particularly important for books in the 3-5 year-old and 6-8 year-old category.

The last ‘secret’ criteria is, will my nephews Ian and Joel be drawn to the book or will they snob it?

There are a plethora of books to choose from in the 6-8 year-old age category. I’m discovering that when it comes to children’s books many writers cater to that age group. However, there aren’t many to choose from in the 3-5 and 9-12 year-old age groups so we’re always on the lookout for them.

The African kidlit space is also missing board books for babies and toddlers. I haven’t come across any yet so please let us know if you know any.

 


  • Do you remember the first children’s book you read as a child? If so, was it by an African author? How was the experience?

ET: I remember some lines from the first book I learned to read by myself. I memorized it. But I don’t remember the title. Haha. It says something like “the sky is grey and it is pouring, sitting here is very boring, I’d like to go out to play …”

It wasn’t by an African author. In terms of experience, I think I felt accomplished reading that book because I could read it by myself. I read it over and over again. That’s why I can remember some lines.

My vivid reading memories though are from the time I discovered the Baby Sitters Club, Nancy Drew, Enid Blyton and Sweet Valley. Those were magical times and all I’d do on the ride to and from school was read. I think this was in class two or three.

 


  • For beginners of African kidlit, where should one start? Could you give three of your favorite books for children aged 3-12?

ET: I love Dela Avemega’s Lulu Series and Niki Daly’s books about Jamela. I’ve also heard amazing things about Atinuke’s Anna Hibiscus series but I’m yet to read any of them.

I’ll give one favourite from each of the age categories that My Booksie Box caters to:

ages 3-5: A is for Accra by Ekow and Nana Afua Pierre

 

ages 6-8: Where is Jamela? by Niki Daly

 

ages 9-12: The Necklace of Relur: Kagim Chronicles by Linda Masi

 


  • When should we be expecting a children’s book written by you, Edem?

ET: Fingers crossed, soon!

 


P.S – If you haven’t checked out Booksie’s #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭: KidLit Edition where nine Ghanaian children’s writers & their books are highlighted, what are you waiting for?

For more information on how to discover amazing African children’s books, kindly check out Booksie’s website for more information; where all FAQ’s are answered!

Also, be sure to contact Edem / the Booksie team via WhatsApp – +233 24 131 6433 | Instagram | Twitter

 

 

 

 

Edem Torkornoo is the Founder and chief bookworm at Booksie, a pan-African book subscription service and book club for 3-12 year-olds. Prior to Booksie, she served as a Teaching Fellow at MEST-Africa and was on the Founding Team at the African Leadership University (ALU) where she managed all things digital. Edem is a child at heart and likes to make people happy through food.

#ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 mini book/author collage + LIT links

Once again, the month of March is here! Ghana gained independence in March (TODAY, March 6th 1957), so I like to dedicate this month to celebrating Ghanaian excellence! As a reader of Ghanaian heritage, I enjoy discovering new Ghanaian writers and learning about our pioneer writers. If we don’t celebrate our own, who will?

The #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭 book challenge is well underway and it’s great to see lots of folks participating in the challenge of reading at least 5 books by writers of Ghanaian descent! Below is a mini collage showing a snippet of some of the Ghanaian books and writers highlighted two years ago in the GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books series ~

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books part 1

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books part 2

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books part 3

While the 3-part series is not exhaustive by any means, it highlights over 80 Ghanaian writers & their books! With the plethora of Ghanaian writers and books highlighted in the series, there is no excuse if anyone claims they don’t know (m)any writers from Ghana!

 

Check out: #ReadGhanaian🇬🇭: KidLit Edition

by Edem Torkornoo, founder of Booksie.

•••

Below are lit(erature) links I’ve been enjoying lately. These are links to some great short stories, poems and articles on the interwebs, showcasing Ghanaian EXCELLENCE:

I was stuck in a position where I had to learn.



How I came to possess the name of the boxer who was once the most famous and baddest man on the planet happened by accident.



  • I add the leaf of the cocoyam plant to dried mudfish, mushrooms and snails, and think of my indomitable ancestors.


[This story was published as the winner of the 2018  AFREADA x Africa Writes Competition. + Maame Blue is one of the 20 Black British writers who will have work published by Jacaranda Books in 2020!]



Raised by a single, independent mother, one young woman struggles with her familial inheritance and the relationship between self-sufficiency and social isolation.


The links between knowing history, media and political agency in northern Ghana.


Book Chat | Tampered Press – A Ghanaian literary & Arts magazine

According to the dictionary, to tamper is to ‘interfere with (something) in order to cause damage or make unauthorized alterations,’ and that’s exactly what Tampered Press is here to do!

[image via Tampered Press]

Tampered Press is a new Ghanaian literary and arts magazine with the goal of publishing the work of emerging and practicing writers and visual artists – with a bias for Ghana, and Africa. The magazine launched during the summer – July 14th, with it’s first issue: The Future Present. I wasn’t able to attend the launch, but I did buy two copies of the first issue and fell in love with the overall stellar quality of the magazine.

What I enjoyed most about the first edition is how unapologetically Ghanaian it is: from the illustrations, to the poetry, short stories and the essays – it’s just really exciting to witness great work being produced by creatives in Accra.

I simply love the overt advocacy for the arts ingrained into every page of this magazine and had to catch up with the editor & creative director – Ama Asantewa Diaka, also known as ‘Poetra Asantewa.’ In this book chat, Poetra Asantewa gives the gist on Tampered Press’s conception, the magazine’s intended audience and more. Enjoy the mini conversation I had with her below!

(note – ‘PA’ represents Poetra Asantewa’s responses)

 

•••

  • Before we get into talking about Tampered Press – Poetra Asantewa, what are you known for? What is your passion?

PA: I am known widely for poetry. But I am passionate about writing – which takes the form of poetry, fiction or non-fiction.

 


  • How did the idea to create this Ghanaian literary & arts magazine come about? Who was involved in the process? Why the name – Tampered Press?

PA: I think books (writing) are a necessity in every community. But the process of getting published in the Ghanaian community, to the best of my knowledge, is so few and far in between that Ghanaian authored books are either largely independent (and thus limited reach), or so rare when it is traditionally published. The publishing industry is a deep dark hole that deserves a ranting of its own, but I strongly believe that the best way to attempt to dismantle the vastness of it, is to create our own platforms – no matter how small and in which ever form. That is what birthed the idea for Tampered – the name was decided on because in as much as it is small – its aim is to stir the norm, – to disturb. Tampered was a very collaborative process. I may have spearheaded it but a community of writers, poets, designers, and editors brought it altogether.

 


  • From the About section of the magazine’s website – The goal is to publish the work of emerging and practicing writers and visual artists, with a bias for Ghana, and Africa.’ So is it safe to assume that the magazine’s intended audiences are Ghanaians and other Africans?

PA: YES. The magazine’s intended audiences are Ghanaians and other Africans.

 


  • Sounds good to me! The quality of the first issue – The Future Present, is very impressive. What do you look out for in the visual arts, short stories, fiction/ non-fiction pieces and poems you accept for publication? What would you like to see more/less of in the submissions?

PA: In the spirit of collaboration – I think marrying the arts together increases its individual reach, and especially for a country that is not privileged to have an industry for each of the arts, it makes more sense to pair up visual artists with writers, or essayists with musicians – or any other pairing that widens the audience reach.

So every submission is going to have these markers – a combination of different genres and art.

 


  • I hope Tampered Press receives lots of submissions in the future, so that forthcoming issues are thicker! I know it’s quite early, but what’s in store for the future?

PA: Consistency in both quantity and quality is my first goal – to be able to create enough interest so artists submit for every issue – both digital and print. To create a reliable platform that also serves not only as a publishing hub but an archive for Ghanaian artists.

 

Guidelines for submissions to the magazine are – here.

 


My favorite pieces from the magazine are:

 

If you’re in Accra, purchase a copy of the magazine from ANO Ghana’s office in Osu. If you’re outside of Ghana and would love to indulge in the work of Ghanaian creatives in this magazine, download Issue 1 via Tampered Press‘s website and stay tuned for the other issues in the coming year.

 

Familiarize yourself with Poetra Asantewa’s work via her YouTube channel; listen to her EXCELLENT 2015 Spoken Word EP – Motherfuckitude & listen to her other projects on Soundcloud as well!

#ReadGhanaian