Meet an author: Yemisi Aribisala
Yemisi Aribisala is a Nigerian essayist, writer and food memoirist. She is renowned for her work in documenting Nigerian food as an entry point to thinking and understanding the culture and society. Her first book, Longthroat Memoirs: Soups, Sex, and the Nigerian Taste Buds, won the John Avery Prize at the André Simon Book Awards 2016.
1. When did you start writing and why?
Karen King Aribisala the Guyanese/Nigerian writer is married to my father’s brother Femi Aribisala. When they first moved back to Nigeria from the UK they lived with us for a few months. Perhaps I wrote stories before then, but I remember writing a book of stories with illustrations with Aunty Karen. She was very generous with her time and those are the first stories I remember putting down with care and attention. They were handwritten on long foolscap paper.
2. At what point do you know that a story/book is complete?
When a deadline whizzes past. When I have no choice but to stop changing things. I never on my own come to the decision to stop writing. It has never happened. Someone has to help my pry my hands off the manuscript. There is eternally room for improvement.
3. What’s the hardest/easiest thing about writing?
The hardest thing (in my opinion) is starting the writing and giving the idea a chance. I rarely show people my work at this stage because I haven’t met one person who said “I get it!” Especially if you are someone who thinks in the opposite direction to how everyone is thinking. I am saying that trusting the process, trusting being the only person who gets it and investing time in it – thats the hardest part.
The easiest is ahead – what I call riding the thermals. An old boyfriend took me gliding in Hull in the countryside; in RC gliders. A winch threw the glider in the air, then you had to find upward currents of warm air called thermals to ride. And if you found a good strong thermal, you would soar and get fantastic views of the countryside. If you find a strong thermal in writing, and this often takes many many tries and a few heartbreaks, plenty of frustration, then soaring is sweet and the story starts to tell itself. You strive then you feel the rewards of rising up in the air. Its wonderful, exhilarating.
If you can find a strong thermal in writing, the story starts to tell itself. -@yemisiAA Click To Tweet
4. What books would you say shaped your writing?
I was saying to someone the other day that the book I would have loved to write is probably Ake, The Years of Childhood. Wole Soyinka’s prose is irresistible, and sweet on the palate. Beautiful, confident and truthful. I think that book is always in the back of my mind even when I don’t know it is.
5. Are you working on anything at the moment?
For the first time in 2 decades I’m giving myself full permission to write fiction. I’m determined to shelve my fear of it and to just write- that is my fear of being insincere, and of the writing lacking integrity.
I’m also working on a book of essays with South Africa’s Chimurenga Chronic – with Ntone Edjabe, Stacey Hardy and and Graeme Arendse…that is a compilation including my essays published in the chronic over the years plus new/other ones.
6. How do you feel about bad reviews?
Every bad review has resulted in self-reflection. I consider that a very good thing. If the review is constructive, I use it to improve my work and my perspective. I welcome them.Every bad review has resulted in self-reflection. I consider that a very good thing. -@yemisiAA Click To Tweet
7. If you could be a character in a novel you’ve read, who would you be and why?
Difficult to say – any reclusive heiress with plenty of money would do.
8. If your life was a book, what would the title be?
How to run away in slow motion.
9. Tell us something about yourself that your readers probably don’t know.
I used to be a terrible (terrible!) singer in a band at Obafemi Awolowo University. It was called Time Band. I honestly don’t know why they let me on stage.