Meet This Nigerian Fast Rising Novelist Ayòbámi Adébáyò
Ayòbámi Adébáyò was born in Lagos, Nigeria. She studied at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, and has an MA in creative writing from the University of East Anglia. Her stories have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies. Her debut novel, Stay With Me, is published by Canongate (£14.99).
Stay With Me is a story about the impact that infertility can have on a married couple. What inspired you to look at this theme?
There is a strong view in Nigeria, as in many other cultures, that a marriage is not complete without children. I don’t agree; I’m wary of the idea that people have to have some particular functionality in order to be full members of society. I think it’s a very dangerous idea. Humans are humans and they are worthy of respect. In the book, I wanted to ask whether it is possible in this cultural context for a couple to be happy with one another, without having children.
In their case, it is their extended family that makes remaining child-free almost impossible.
Yes, the mother-in-law character is convinced that her son can’t be happy unless he has a child. I am interested in the idea that people should be able to define their own happiness. It’s not just about fertility; we are often told that we need this or that to be happy. We need to be thin, rich or whatever. But maybe we should decide for ourselves what happiness looks like.
Another strand of the plot is about sickle cell disease (SCD) and the devastating effect it can have on a family. Was this written from personal experience?
I don’t suffer from SCD myself, but I do carry the gene. This means that if I married another person who carried the gene, there would be a danger our children would suffer from the disease. It is very common in Nigeria – around one in four Nigerians carries the sickle cell gene. I’ve been friends with several people who have SCD and some have died as a result of complications from the disease. I started writing the book just after the death of one of those friends.
Until recently, it hasn’t been discussed very much in public discourse, but with the rise of social media there is more awareness about it. For those who carry the disease, and much more so for those who suffer from it, it informs our lives in many profound ways and presents us with ethical choices. For example, when you meet someone, one of the first questions on your mind is: are they a carrier? If they are, then you don’t want to become emotionally involved. My mother is a doctor, so I saw parents and children in anguish and was aware from a young age that I wouldn’t want to risk passing on the disease to my children.
So as a carrier, when do you pop the question? Have you ever asked someone about their genotype on a first date?
These days, it is one of the first things I ask. And if someone is a carrier, I wouldn’t consider a serious relationship. That’s what I mean – it is a life-defining issue for us. It shapes how we see the world.
When did you start writing the book?
In 2010, I was working in a bank in Lagos. It was a crazy job with long working hours. I had to leave for the office by 5.30am and sometimes I wouldn’t be back until midnight. I had no time for writing. But I found that, because I was stuck in traffic for two to three hours a day, I’d tap ideas and paragraphs into my phone while I was in the car. Then on Saturdays, when I had some time, I would transfer them to my laptop. The story kept on pushing and eventually I left banking and went to do my MA at the UEA.
When you were 19, you attended a workshop in Lagos led by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Was she a big inspiration to you as a young, female, Nigerian aspiring writer?
When I was a child, there were two Nigerian writers in every bookshop: Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka. Now there are three: Chimamanda is there too. That workshop was influential mainly because it made me read so many authors I wouldn’t have read otherwise. It got me thinking seriously about writing. There is so much more diversity in Nigerian publishing now than there was in the 1960s: so many more voices are being heard.
This post first appeared on the Guardian UK