Ola Awonubi loves to read, but throughout her life’s reading adventures noticed one thing was missing – stories of her Nigerian heritage. After 17 years of living there, the desire to share tales of the rich and vibrant complexities of Nigerian life burned brightly, and Naija Love Stories was born.
I recently wrote about the world hearing a black woman’s voice. I can think of no better way for us to be heard than when we write stories from our point of view. Ola took some time out of her busy schedule to tell me how she got started as an author and what she thinks about the ‘black woman’s love and dating experience in today’s world’.
A bit about Ola:
An already experienced and published author, Ola Awonubi studied for an MA in Creative Writing and Imaginative Practice at the University of East London and in 2008 her short story The Pink House won first prize in the National Words of Colour Competition. Another tale – The Go -Slow Journey followed this, winning the first prize in the Wasafiri New Writing Award 2009. Some of her short stories feature on blogs and journals and anthologies such as AfricanWriting.com, Story Time, The Ake Review, TheSiren.co.uk, The Woven Tale Press and more recently Brittle Paper.
The complex emotions of love
Naija Love Stories is a collection of 12 tales exploring the complex and intoxicating emotions that all humans encounter in their lifetime. We all choose to love, and prioritise the thing we love differently in our lives – our family, possession, money and even power – but to what end?
Set against the background of a rich and vibrant Nigerian culture, this superb book will take you on a journey through the lives of characters all grappling with the different concepts of what it means to love and be loved.
How did you get started as a writer?
Funnily enough I just grew up with a desire to write. Even as a child I was rewriting fairy tales in my head and including myself as one of the characters. Growing up in the UK there were few books with positive black characters. I read books from the Ladybird and Enid Blyton series, Enid Blyton was a favourite I decided to rewrite one of the stories and include myself as one of the characters. I wanted to see myself in those books.
I wanted the Prince to kiss someone that looked like me and longed to see some kind of positive representation on the TV or radio instead of stereotypical caricatures. So I decided to create my own world, with my own pen. Then I went to Nigeria and I found I could identify with the characters in the Pacesetters and the African Writers Series in the books of Achebe, Emecheta and Ekwensi- just to mention a few.
Who inspired you to become a writer?
My foster mother got me lots of books growing up and realised I liked reading books and writing stories. As I got older I read books from the African Writers series and the first was Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe but it was the book Second Class Citizens by Buchi Emecheta that inspired me to want to become a writer.
I wanted to see myself in those books. I wanted the Prince to kiss someone that looked like me and longed to see some kind of positive representation on the TV or radio instead of stereotypical caricatures.
How do you view the black woman’s love & dating experience in today’s world?
Loaded question lol. Sometimes it seems as if our experiences are predicated on the colour of our skin. Can that still be happening in 2018 you ask. Sometimes. Especially if you are seen as being strong-willed or having a degree of confidence or independence. Is this something women from other races deal with? I would say yes but to a different degree.
Some schools of thought believe that the independent woman might be off-putting to men but that would be stereotypical. Some of my friends are in loving marriages and relationships and they are able to juggle motherhood and career as best as they can with their partners. While others are single and trying to steer themselves and sometimes their children through the maze of the phenomena called modern dating experiences. Despite online dating it hasn’t really changed the fact that sometimes for the woman of colour, finding a man that appreciates you for you is not always a walk in the park.
In your opinion is there a big need to see black women in love stories or taking the romantic lead?
It was refreshing to discover Viola Davis recently appearing in Widows as the romantic lead with Liam Neeson. Apart from Nichelle Roberts (Lieutenant Uhura’s famous kiss with Captain Kirk in Star Trek in the sixties something that caused a furore in the States at the time of racial segregation) in the eighties and nineties there was Pam Grier in the Black exploitation movies and Halle Berry in the nineties playing romantic leads. We need to see more of this. Most of the time the black woman isn’t in a relationship. She is the confidante, the victim, the widow or the comedienne. We don’t want our children growing up to feel that we always have to be the one not in a relationship while at the time we are not making that the pinnacle of success – finding a person that loves, esteems and respects you is a wonderful thing to find.
Despite online dating it hasn’t really changed the fact that sometimes for the woman of colour, finding a man that appreciates you for you is not always a walk in the park.
What advice would you give to other black women who want to become authors?
Read, read, read other authors. Write about what interests you and what makes you feel something. You angry about something write about it. You want to change something – write about it. Be authentic so that your readers can connect to you and what you are about. Rejection comes to all writers regardless of their colour. It’s about that dogged sheer determination to be persistent and keep going. As you write don’t forget to take advantage of any opportunities to network and meet with other writers and publishers at Writers conferences.
Submit your work to competitions and make social media your friend – get an author page on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and share your work (not the whole thing of course) but snippets to start getting feedback and use that to fine tune your work. I always think being a writer is a journey and not a destination. You keep learning and absorbing from people, from circumstances and the things you’ve experienced and grow in your art.
Learn more about Ola Awonubi at: