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🇬🇭 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.

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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)

 

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  • 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

Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah

Date Read: July 28th 2017

Published: February 1999

Publisher: One World / Ballantine

Pages: 288

The Blurb 

This moving memoir of an African-American woman’s lifelong fight to identify and overcome depression offers an inspirational story of healing and emergence. Wrapped within Danquah’s engaging account of this universal affliction is rare and insightful testimony about what it means to be black, female, and battling depression in a society that often idealizes black women as strong, nurturing caregivers. A startlingly honest, elegantly rendered depiction of depression, Willow Weep for Me calls out to all women who suffer in silence with a life-affirming message of recovery. Meri Danquah rises from the pages, a true survivor, departing a world of darkness and reclaiming her life.

◊◊

Review – ★★★★★ (5 stars)

I read Willow Weep for Me last year around this time. After reading, I just wanted the memoir to sit with me for awhile before discussing my thoughts! I learned a lot from this book, but one thing that stuck with me is: Black women are not immune to clinical depression. We need to stop contending with the stereotypic image of strength. This image encourages stoicism while several black women live in denial by denying their pain. And it’s harmful.

The illusion of strength has been and continues to be of major significance to me as a black woman. The one myth that I have had to endure my entire life is that of my supposed birthright to strength. Black women are supposed to be strong – caretakers, nurtures, healers of other people – any of the twelve dozen variations of Mammy. Emotional hardship is supposed to be built into the structure of our lives. It went along with the territory of being both black and female in a society that completely undervalues the lives of black people and regards all women as second-class citizens. It seemed that suffering, for a black woman, was part of the package.

Or so I thought. (pg. 19)

Willow Weep For Me, which was published back in 1999, is a deeply personal memoir on Ghanaian-American writer – Meri Nana-Ama Danquah’s journey through depression. What makes this book truly special is the clarity of Danquah’s writing. This memoir is beautifully laced with poetic phrases and visceral descriptions, giving readers the full experience of various anecdotes and incidences that occurred in her life. I loved how Danquah incorporated the stories of other (black) women’s journeys through depression into this memoir, allowing readers to resonate with the many variations of mental illness. Through other women’s experiences highlighted in this book, I was enlightened on the force of suicidal ideation, seasonal depression and some side-effects of anti-depressants (which varies from person to person).

Some of my favorite quotes from the memoir:

White women who suffer from mental illness are depicted as idle, spoiled, or just plain hysterical. Black men are demonized and pathologized. Black women with psychological problems are certainly not seen as geniuses; we are generally not labeled ‘hysterical’ or ‘eccentric’ or even ‘pathological’. When a black woman suffers from a mental disorder, the overwhelming opinion is that she is weak. And weakness in black women is intolerable. (pg. 20)


I’ve frequently been told things like: “Girl, you’ve been hanging out with too many white folk” ; “What do you have to be depressed about? If our people could make it through slavery, we can make it through anything” ; “Take your troubles to Jesus, not no damn psychiatrist.” (pg. 21)


From the beginning, our relationship was formula for disaster. Depressed people often attract unhealthy relationships and inadvertently subject themselves and their already battered self-image, to additional abuse… You feel as if you are worthless so you attach yourself to someone who you think will give your life some meaning, be a safe harbor for your souls. But only you can protect what’s inside. (pg. 41)


I despise the way blackness in the English language, symbolizes death and negativity. Because I believe that the absorption of these connotations contributes to self-hate, I avoid them at all cost (pg 182).


We sat in an awkward silence for some time. I wondered why, after all he had been through with his mother, Eugene welcomed another depressive into his life. Wasn’t he afraid of the consequences? How did he escape the contagious effects of mental illness? (pg. 217)


“Why do you give people so much power over you? That M.D. behind his name just means that he’s trained to facilitate your healing. You’re the one who’s actually got to make it happen. Therapy doesn’t work unless you know what you want out of it. You’re the one who has the power to change things.” (pg. 220)


Racism is definitely in the eye of the beholder. White people have at hand the privilege of choosing whether to see or not see the racism that takes place around them. If Dr. Fitzgerald could not ‘fathom’ my reality as a black person, how would he be able to assess or address the rage, the fear and the host of other complex emotions that go hand-in-hand with being black in a racist society? For whatever reasons, seeing a black therapist had never crossed my mind, until then. (pg. 224)


I love that this memoir ended on a hopeful note and allows readers to view life and it’s challenges from a practical angle. We often forget that going to therapy & support groups, asking questions, talking to family/friends and taking control of your healing by being a partner in your healing process instead of being a mere patient who is being treated, is paramount and empowering.

Now with the importance of mental health getting the attention it needs in the media, I hope more people will discover this timeless memoir. Willow Weep For Me was written almost 20 years ago, and all of Danquah’s experiences and commentary on depression in this memoir are being reiterated in countless articles, think-pieces and seminars on mental health today. Danquah’s daughter (who plays a key role in this memoir!) – Korama (who was a year behind me in high school – GIS) must be SUPER proud of her mother for writing this important, brave, empowering memoir. I’m still in awe and will continue to re-read some of the quotes I highlighted again and again and again. More people NEED to read this memoir.

Before, I used to wonder what my life would have been like had I not gone through my depressions; now, I don’t know if I would trade those experiences. I love who I am. And without those past depressions, I wouldn’t be the same person. (pg. 266)

★★★★★ (5 stars) – Amazing book, I loved it. Absolutely recommend!

Purchase Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression on Amazon

Ghanaian Writers | Book Chat :: with Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond

Once again, the month of March is here! Ghana gained independence in March, so I like to dedicate this month to celebrating Ghanaian writers and their work. In the African literature scene, Ghanaian writers and their books are seriously underrated. 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?

Last year on African Book Addict! we celebrated 75 Ghanaian writers and their books in a 3-part series. This month, (more like this month), I’ll be in conversation with some of the writers highlighted in last year’s series! This week is the last installment of the conversations I have with writers of Ghanaian descent.


 

This week, I chat with Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond – author of Powder Necklace, which was published in 2010. I enjoyed Powder Necklace back in 2013, before the creation of this book blog (hence no book review on the site). Since my 2018 reading intentions are to re-read some novels and indulge in more work by Ghanaian writers, I shall be re-reading and reviewing Nana Ekua’s coming-of-age debut this year. Enjoy this fun book chat where Nana Ekua talks about what she learned about herself while writing her debut, how she feels about the future of Ghanaian literature, the Black writers who influence her work, new projects that will be published soon & more!

(note – ‘NEBH’ represents Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond’s responses)

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Check out the synopsis for Powder Necklace below:

To protect her daughter from the fast life and bad influences of London, her mother sent her to school in rural Ghana. The move was for the girl’s own good, in her mother’s mind, but for the daughter, the reality of being the new girl, the foreigner-among-your-own-people, was even worse than the idea. 

During her time at school, she would learn that Ghana was much more complicated than her fellow ex-pats had ever told her, including how much a London-raised child takes something like water for granted. In Ghana, water “became a symbol of who had and who didn’t, who believed in God and who didn’t. If you didn’t have water to bathe, you were poor because no one had sent you some.”

After six years in Ghana, her mother summons her home to London to meet the new man in her mother’s life—and his daughter. The reunion is bittersweet and short-lived as her parents decide it’s time that she get to know her father. So once again, she’s sent off, this time to live with her father, his new wife, and their young children in New York—but not before a family trip to Disney World.

  • I remember reading your debut novel, Powder Necklace back in 2013 and resonating with it on so many levels. At the time, I hadn’t read a book that accurately articulated the many issues I had with myself and others (mostly Ghanaians) after I moved to Ghana at the age of 10, so I thank you! Why was it important for you to write the story?

NEBH: Thank you! I’m so glad to know Powder Necklace resonated with you. It was important to me to write Powder Necklace because I had so many misconceptions about Ghana before I went to live and school there at 12.

My parents had pumped it up as this utopia where kids never misbehaved, and would threaten to send my siblings and me there whenever we didn’t act right. Meanwhile, it felt like American news programs of the early ‘80s were conflating the Ethiopian famine with all of Africa. Add that to the Save the Children commercials starring Sally Struthers that were repeatedly on air, and it seemed as if Africa was a Land of Flies and Kwashiorkor-Stricken Children. No wonder some of my classmates in the States thought anyone from Africa was a “Booty Scratcher.”

With Powder Necklace, I wanted to share the slice of Africa I experienced in Ghana. Yes, there was poverty, but there was also wealth and both stations were far more complicated than depicted in American media or even by family. Everything and everyone I encountered was far more nuanced.

I also felt like there weren’t many contemporary books for Black kids who weren’t African-American—at least I hadn’t come across many growing up. In the ‘90s, when Black literature was experiencing a wave with books by Terry McMillan, E. Lynn Harris, Bebe Moore Campbell, J. California Cooper, April Sinclair, et al, most centered on the African-American experience. I wanted Powder Necklace to speak to the experience of being Black and African in the diaspora.


  • Did you learn anything about yourself while writing Powder Necklace?

NEBH: I did. Powder Necklace was inspired by my experience getting sent to school in Ghana at 12. It fundamentally changed my personality and intensified my faith in God, but I had not fully dealt with the resentment and anger I felt from being tricked into staying in Ghana. As I began to write the book, I realized how much I had suppressed about the experience. I was surprised by how painful it was to revisit the isolation and fear I felt as a kid when it sunk in that I would be in Ghana without my parents for years, at a boarding school two hours’ drive from my home in Accra.

I had also been hazed by many of my schoolmates during my time at school. In my mind they were all villains, but as I wrote, and had the distance to see myself as a character in a bigger story, I could see the cultural chauvinism I brought to my interactions with my fellow students and still held in some ways.


  • Three years ago, I read a compelling essay of yours in Mosaic Literary Magazine – ‘The African Renaissance’, where you discussed the trajectory of African literature over the years and the interrogation of ‘authentic’ African identity tagged to stories and writers. Some writers dislike being ‘pigeon-holed’ and labeled as ‘African writer’ or ‘Black writer.’ How do you prefer to be identified as a writer?

NEBH: I appreciate being identified as an “African writer” or “Black writer” because I am proud of my Africanness and my Blackness. It took me a long time to get here. I had to get over years of cultural indoctrination designed to make me feel ashamed of my dark skin, and my Ghanaian name and origin—and now that I have, I refuse to have my identity erased or downgraded by anyone, including myself.

The only reason being labeled an “African” or a “Black” writer can pigeonhole is because mainstream culture is infected with racist notions about what it means to be African and Black, and the powers that be have a track record of allowing only certain types of narratives by Black people to see the light of day. By standing proudly in my identity and working to tell authentic stories, I am defying the idea that we should be ashamed of who we are and forcing people to see that no race or ethnicity can be narrowed down to one story or experience.


  • Do you remember the first book you read by a Ghanaian writer? If so, what book was it and how was the experience? After working on the #GHat60 project last year, I was amazed at the great number of Ghanaian writers doing amazing work. How do you feel about the future of Ghanaian literature?

NEBH: The first book I read by a Ghanaian writer was a play—Ama Ata Aidoo’s The Dilemma of a Ghost. I immediately connected with her story of a Ghanaian man bringing his African-American wife home to Ghana and the clash they were dealing with because I was going through a similar experience as I read it at school in Ghana.

I think the future of Ghanaian literature is limitless. Writers like Kofi Akpabli, Nana-Ama Danquah, Nana Awere Damoah, Esi Edugyan, Martin Egblewogbe, Boakyewaa Glover, Yaa Gyasi, Ayesha Harruna Attah, Lesley Lokko, Cheryl Ntumy, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Kwei Quartey, Taiye Selasi, and yourself are not only writing a diversity of stories, but many are creating opportunities and support systems for other writers.

Nana Awere Damoah has started the Ghana-based online bookstore BookNook, which should make it easier for readers in Ghana to get their hands on books by Ghanaian authors. Together with Kofi Akpabli, Nana Awere Damoah also goes around Ghana producing open mic nights. Martin Egblewogbe co-founded Writers Project Ghana and co-hosts a radio show on Ghana’s Citi FM that features Ghanaian writers as well as writers from all over the continent.

(all these Ghanaian writers were featured in the #GHat60 3-part series, last year)

You have your blog, which promotes African authors, and there are other sites focused on African literature too like Nana-Ama Kyerematen’s AfriDiaspora and Ainehi Edoro’s Brittle Paper. Plus, there are writing contests geared toward young Ghanaians like the #360WritersChallenge, which is aimed at university students and the Blooming Minds Young Writers Award for children, not to mention the proliferation of prizes that have cropped up in the last five years geared toward African writers including the Miles Morland Writing Scholarship.

Right now, Ghanaian writers of any age and stage can find encouragement, support, and inspiration among peers and promoters. If this continues—and I believe it will if we as writers and lovers of literature remain vigilant about creating and supporting individuals, initiatives, and institutions that support us—there’s no reason Ghana can’t be home to a proliferation of powerful literary voices generation after generation.


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

NEBH: I recently devoured Baruch Sterman’s The Rarest Blue. I know I’m so so late on The Life of Pi, but I finally read it and absolutely loved it. Currently, I’m in the middle of Chigozie Obioma’s The Fishermen.

My favorite Black writer is Buchi Emecheta. Reading her work, it’s clear how much empathy she had for her characters, and she had a gift for pacing. In addition to Ms. Emecheta, there are so many Black writers I aspire to be as honest and fearless as in my writing, including Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Both women are such astute and commanding storytellers.

I love the care Ayesha Harruna Attah gives to the tiniest details. NoViolet Buluwayo has a fierce way with words that I deeply admire. I so appreciate the poetry of Taiye Selasi’s style. And Ama Ata Aidoo is a legend. Her commitment to telling nuanced stories of Ghanaian lives, particularly Ghanaian women’s lives, has set the benchmark for contemporary Ghanaian writers.


  • I enjoyed your short story – Mama Africa, which was published in the Africa39 Anthology (2014) and I’m excited to see that you’ll be featured in Everyday People: The Color of Life – a Short Story Anthology this summer (August 2018). Do you have a new novel or collection of stories currently in the works to be published soon?

NEBH: Thank you for reading and following my work! I have finished a second novel that I’m really eager to get out into the world. I don’t have a publication date yet, or a publisher, but I’m confident I will soon. In the meantime, I’m working on another novel, a children’s book series, and a literary project for Ghanaian writers. I also have a short story in the forthcoming anthology Accra Noir.


  • Thanks so much for taking the time to participate in this book chat!

NEBH: Thank YOU for all of your support.

Purchase Powder Necklace on Amazon

SPECIAL THANKS TO: Ayesha Harruna Attah and Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond for participating in this fun miniseries of book chats! Also, thank you to all the readers of the book blog who have enjoyed these book chats with writers of Ghanaian descent. #ReadGhanaian!


Check out the 75 Ghanaian writers that were highlighted in last year’s 3-part series below:

Ghanaian Writers | Book Chat :: with Ayesha Harruna Attah

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 writers and their work. In the African literature scene, Ghanaian writers and their books are seriously underrated. 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?

Last year on African Book Addict! we celebrated 75 Ghanaian writers and their books in a 3-part series. This year (more like this month), I’ll be in conversation with some of the writers highlighted in last year’s series!


First up is Ayesha Harruna Attah – author of Harmattan Rain, Saturday’s Shadows and forthcoming The Hundred Wells of Salaga, which will be published by Cassava Republic Press in May! Enjoy this fun book chat where Ayesha talks about the inspirations for her forthcoming novel, the first book she read by a Ghanaian writer & the future of Ghanaian literature, the Black writers who influence her work and why we should indulge in The Hundred Wells of Salaga.

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

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Check out the synopsis for The Hundred Wells of Salaga below:

Aminah lives an idyllic life until she is brutally separated from her home and forced on a journey that turns her from a daydreamer into a resilient woman. Wurche, the willful daughter of a chief, is desperate to play an important role in her father’s court. These two women’s lives converge as infighting among Wurche’s people threatens to cleave the region, during the height of the slave trade at the end of the 19th century.

Set in pre-colonial Ghana, The Hundred Wells of Salaga is a story of courage, forgiveness, love and freedom. Through the experiences of Aminah and Wurche, it offers a remarkable view of slavery and how the scramble for Africa affected the lives of everyday people.

  • The Hundred Wells of Salaga is your 3rd forthcoming novel, congratulations on this achievement! When did you first get ideas on the story and how long did it take you to write the novel?

AHA: Thank you! About ten years ago, I found out that my great-great grandmother was enslaved. I wanted to know more. Who was she? Where had she come from? What were her desires before her dreams were snatched away? To unearth more, I made a trip to Salaga, in northern Ghana, where there was an infamous slave market. But I kept hitting walls – either people didn’t want to talk or they didn’t know enough. So in 2012, I decided to research how people ended up in Salaga and to also put my imagination to work. I officially started writing in 2014.


  • Did you learn anything about yourself while writing The Hundred Wells of Salaga?

AHA: I learned just how much I didn’t know about African history. For instance, it was a big surprise to me that in the 19th century in the Sokoto Caliphate, there were women teachers, jajis, who taught other women and they used poetry as a way of disseminating values.


  • While reading Harmattan Rain, I saw bits of my life reflected in Sugri’s character and in Saturday’s Shadows, Kojo’s character mirrored a lot of my life as well! How much of your personal life seeps into your stories?

AHA: I don’t consciously set out to put my lived experiences into my writing, but it would be almost impossible to divorce myself from my characters. Even if I were writing the vilest character on earth, it would be with my flavor and through my eyes. Of course, there are certain moments in life that are too good to keep to oneself and, those, I very intentionally put into my stories. For instance, the anecdote in Saturday’s Shadows, where a man cuts himself with a blade to prove he’s invincible—that was a real life scene I witnessed.


  • Do you remember the first book you read by a Ghanaian writer? If so, what book was it and how was the experience? After working on the #GHat60 project last year, I was amazed at the great number of Ghanaian writers doing amazing work. How do you feel about the future of Ghanaian literature?

AHA: I think it was The Anthill in the Sea, an illustrated poetry book by Atukwei Okai. I don’t even remember how old I was. Maybe seven. I loved it.

On the future of Ghanaian literature, there is so much potential and possibility brimming, which I find really exciting. I think the work the Writers Project of Ghana is doing is commendable and writers such as Ruby Goka, Nana Awere Damoah, Mohammed Naseehu Ali, Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond, Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Boakyewaa Glover give me hope for our generation of writers. What we desperately need are publishing houses with serious distribution networks.

(all these Ghanaian writers were featured in the #GHat60 3-part series, last year)


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

AHA: After almost a year and a half of new mummy duties, I have started reading again. Since January, I have read Akwaeke Emezi, JJ Bola, Ayobami Adebayo, all debut novelists and I have loved all their books.

I devour work by Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Bessie Head, Ama Ata Aidoo, Lucille Clifton, and of course, Ayi Kwei Armah, who gave me the push I needed to write my first novel.


  • Finally, why would you like readers to indulge in your forthcoming, The Hundred Wells of Salaga? What would you like us to take away from the story?

AHA: The involvement of Africans in the slave trade is a part of history that I feel hasn’t been confronted or dealt with enough. There were entire villages built in rocks to prevent slave raiders from attacking. It was a traumatic moment we suffered on the continent, and if trauma isn’t healed it manifests itself in disease, passiveness, self-harm… The list is endless. My impression is that most African countries do not want to deal with this past. Just recently, the world learned of slave auctions in Libya. I was ashamed and appalled that Ghanaians and Nigerians were involved, once again as middlemen. I hope that this book will wake us up to the role that we played in the slave trade, and begin us on the path of forgiveness and healing.

Pre-order The Hundred Wells of Salaga on Amazon

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

Harmattan Rain  |  Saturday’s Shadows


Check out the 75 Ghanaian writers that were highlighted in last year’s 3-part series below:

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books (part 3 – finale)

Welcome back to part 3 – the final installment of the series: GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books.

As a person of Ghanaian heritage, I enjoy discovering new Ghanaian writers and learning about our pioneer writers. Being a lover of African literature and literature of the diaspora, I find that Ghanaian authors and their work aren’t as popular as Kenyan, South African, Nigerian or Zimbabwean literature.

GH at 60 | Our Writers & Their Books is a series that highlights and celebrates various Ghanaian writers and their work. If we don’t celebrate our own, who will? I hope your TBR lists grow once you take the time to appreciate these writers and their work through the series. This is the final installment of the 3-part series and it’s NOT exhaustive by any means. The list is arranged in alphabetical order, of last names.

Note: Images were taken from Goodreads and the respective writers’ websites.

Ama Ata Aidoo

Prof. Ama Ata Aidoo is one of Africa’s foremost woman writers. She’s a feminist, poet, academic, playwright and novelist with many notable works under her belt! Her first play – The Dilemma of a Ghost was published back in 1966 and her debut novel – Our Sister Killjoy was published back in 1977. Aidoo received the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Africa) for her novel entitled Changes in 1992 and she’s the author of many more poetry collections, short stories collections and plays. Her works highlight women experiences like gender and power dynamics, Western influences on African women and women protagonists defying stereotypical gender roles in family and society. On March 16th of this year, the The African University College for Communication named its new creative writing center after this phenomenal woman- Ama Ata Aidoo Center for Creative Writing.


Kofi Anyidoho

Prof. Kofi Anyidoho is a prominent Ghanaian poet, literary scholar, cultural activist and educator. He’s published 5 collections of poetry and some of these collections are accompanied with audio of the poems in Ewe – his native language. Anyidoho has won many awards for his poetry like the BBC Arts and Africa Poetry Award, Davidson Nicol prize, the Langston Hughes award, Valco Fund Literary Award among others!


Ayi Kwei Armah

Ayi Kwei Armah is a highly acclaimed Ghanaian novelist, poet and pan-African. Armah’s work is known to critically examine moral integrity that exists between the past and present, with poetic energy. He’s best known for his debut novel – The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born which was published in 1968 as well as the epic historical novel – Two Thousand Seasons (published in 1973) which received mixed reviews and actually received harsh criticism from Chinua Achebe back in 1987. Last year I attended a talk that featured Ayi Kwei Armah and Ayesha Harruna Attah (who was featured in part 2 of this series) and he discussed his latest projects in hieroglyphics.


Kofi Awoonor

Kofi Awoonor was a phenomenal poet, literary critic and professor of comparative literature. He is the author of novels, plays, political essays, literary criticism, and several volumes of poetry like Rediscovery and Other Poems (1964), Night of My Blood (1971), The House By the Sea (1978), The Promise of Hope: New and Selected Poems (2014) just to name a few. Awoonor made it a point to bring his Ewe culture and ancestry as well as contemporary religious symbolism to depict Africa during the era of decolonization into his poems and other works. Awoonor passed away in the Westgate shopping mall attack in Kenya back in September 2013, but we (Ghanaians and other fans of his work) always make it a point to celebrate him and his great legacy during his birthday. This year on March 13th (his birthday) the hashtag – #Awoonor82 was dedicated to honoring the legend, who would have been 82 years old this year.


Joe de Graft

Joe de Graft was a well-known Ghanaian writer, poet playwright and educator. He’s best known for his play Sons and Daughters (1979) which encourages the youth to follow their dreams. He uses the play to inform Ghanaian youth that careers in medicine, business and law aren’t the only careers that lead to success and inspires them to find interest in the arts like music, dance, writing etc. De Graft is also known for his works Beneath the Jazz and Brass (1975) and Muntu (1977) and Through A Film Darkly (1979). He left a legacy with the launch of the Mfantsipim School (his alma mater) Drama festival.


Yaa Gyasi

Yaa Gyasi is a Ghanaian-American novelist who’s debut – Homegoing, has been receiving well-deserved praise ever since it was published last year. I absolutely loved Homegoing and I explain why in a personal book review I posted last year. But we’re still waiting for Yaa Gyasi to grace Accra with her presence ohhh! Hopefully she’ll plan a trip soon, so that Ghanaians can engage with her and her book at a reading.


Kojo Laing

Kojo Laing is a poet, novelist and educator. Laing is the author of the novels Search Sweet Country (1986), Women of the Aeroplanes (1988)Major Gentl and the Achimota Wars (1992), Big Bishop Roko and the Altar Gangsters (2006) and the poetry collection Godhorse (1989). His poetry addresses the themes of identity and alienation while his novels combine magical realism with political commentary. Some readers have described his debut – Search Sweet Country as reading a dream with intense vivid imagery and humanization of inanimate objects. Laing’s work is an absorbing experience I hope to encounter soon when I indulge in his debut.


Atukwei Okai

Prof. Atukwei Okai is a prolific poet, cultural activist and academic with many accomplished works and honors. Some of his works include: Flowerfall (1969), Oath Of The Fontomfrom and Other Poems (1971), Lorgorligi: Logarithms and Other Poems (1974), Freedom Symphony: Selected and New Love Poems (2008), Mandela the Spear and Other Poems (2013) as well as children’s books like – The Anthill In the Sea: Verses and chants for children (1988), amongst others!


Taiye Selasi

Taiye Selasi is a writer and photographer of Ghanaian and Nigerian descent who popularized the term Afropolitan, thanks to her 2005 (controversial) essay – Bye-Bye, Babar. Selasi’s writing explores our relationships to our multiple identities – intersectionalities, if you will. She’s most popular for her debut novel – Ghana Must Go (2013). I particularly enjoyed her TEDGlobal talk (2014): Don’t ask where I’m from, ask where I’m a local.


Efua Sutherland

Efua Sutherland was a phenomenal Ghanaian writer, dramatist, teacher, scholar and cultural activist. For about 40 years, she was in the forefront of literary and theatrical movements in Ghana (from the 1950’s) and was a key player in pushing African performance to the university level. She was instrumental in founding various literary establishments like Ghana Society of Writers, the literary magazine Okyeame, the Ghana Drama Studio and the W.E.B. Du Bois Memorial Center for Pan African Culture (which is still in great shape in Cantonments, Accra). She’s well known for her works: Foriwa (1962), Edufa (1967), and The Marriage of Anansewa (1975). Find out more about Sutherland at the Mmofra Foundation – where children and culture connect, for which she is the founder.


Below are some HONORARY MENTIONS comprising of both budding and established writers of Ghanaian descent who you should definitely keep an eye out for. Click on their names to check out their writing portfolios, publications and/or websites:


The end of March is finally here, so the Ghana at 60| Our Writers & Their Books series has come to an end. A TOTAL of 75 Ghanaian writers (including honorary mentions) have been highlighted, as well as some of their work. It has been a pleasure sharing with the world our accomplished Ghanaians writers.

Food for thought: While I feel much pride in highlighting our Ghanaian writers, I also worry that most Ghanaians will never get the chance to read some of these authors’ work. Books by writers of African descent are pretty scarce here in Accra – several titles are either not sold in bookstores or they are super expensive so the average Ghanaian can’t afford them. Readers living abroad can get easy access to all of the works mentioned in this series, thanks to various online bookstores and several well stocked bookstores with African/Black fiction. But how about readers living in Ghana? How can works by Ghanaian writers be accessible to everyone and at affordable prices?

With the plethora of Ghanaian writers and books highlighted in this series, there is no excuse if anyone claims they don’t know (m)any writers from Ghana! I’d love to know who I missed (there are many more writers out there!) – kindly share other writers in the comments. And be sure to share this loaded resource with others, so they can indulge in Ghanaian literature as well.