Born in Barbados, Yewande Omotoso grew up in Nigeria and moved to South Africa in 1992. A trained architect, she is also a designer, freelance writer, poet and novelist. Yewande’s debut novel Bom Boy was published in 2011 by Modjaji Books and won the 2012 South African Literary Award for First-Time Published Author and was the runner-up for the 2013 Etisalat Prize for Literature. Yewande currently lives in Johannesburg. She took time to answer a few questions from Africa Book Club.
Who is Yewande Omotoso? How would you describe yourself?
Where did you grow up and what was your childhood like?
I was born in Barbados, where my mother comes from and grew up in Ile-Ife, in Nigeria. I grew up on a university campus, Obafemi Awolowo University. My father was a lecturer and my mother worked for the Capital Projects unit on campus. I have two older brothers. I enjoyed my childhood and have very nostalgic memories.
So how did you – a trained architect – switch to writing? Do you write full-time now?
I didn’t switch as such. I’ve always written and I read a lot as a child. I wanted to study English Literature when I finished high school but was encouraged to study something a bit more concrete, ‘scuse the pun! But I kept on writing through my architecture degree and after graduating and working for several years I could afford to study part time, I enrolled in the Creative Writing Masters at UCT. My thesis was Bom Boy. I don’t know that I’d say I write full-time. I consider what I’m doing as an experiment, trying to write more and more, also growing an architectural practice. I do other stuff as well, freelance work. It’s a hustle.
The response to your novel, Bom Boy has been amazing? Are you surprised at how well it’s been received?
I feel lucky with regards to the response to Bom Boy. I am particularly grateful for thoughtful critique because that is what allows for growth. Everything about writing feels, if not like a surprise, then a bit like magic.
What inspired the story line?
I wanted to write and think about loneliness, being cut off from society and what it might take or mean to re-connect.
As a writer who has lived and experienced different cultures, does Bom Boy in some ways reflect your own personal journey and experience of displacement?
I think many writers mine their lives for stories, I certainly do, sometimes even without being conscious of it. Moving around as I have perhaps means I have some understanding of what it is to be outside or on the edge.
I read somewhere that you read two books a week? What are you reading currently?
I should add that there are also periods when I’m not reading – I don’t want to sound like some reading guru! But yes I do like to read a lot and one or two books a week is what makes sense to me. I usually read one thing at a time but currently, because of research, I’m reading a number of things. One is a book called ‘The Examined Life’ by Stephen Grosz.
What books by other African authors or books about Africa would you recommend to people looking to explore this genre?
I don’t think of books about Africa or by Africans as a genre. In terms of recommendations there is so much fantastic literature being published. There have been some recent lists compiled. There was also a list compiled in 2002 called Africa’s 100 Best Books of the 20th Century. Definitely not enough women on the list though. There have also been some other more recent links from Africa is A Country and TIA. There are some great blogs that frequently discuss these and other works such as Kinna Reads, In the Words of Katarina and Brittle Paper.
If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world other than where you live, where would that be and why?
I live in Johannesburg. As for where I would live, I’m sentimental in the sense that I believe the people make the place. Yes the sun is a very important consideration for me when picking a place to live but, for the most part, I am drawn to places because I am drawn to the people that live there.