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Featured Profile | Echoes of African Narratives: Tracing Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀'s Literary Footprints

AYỌ̀BÁMI ADÉBÁYỌ̀, an award-winning writer, is one of the most prominent contemporary African writers who has graced the writing scenery and painted.

Echoes of African Narratives: Tracing Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀'s Literary Footprints


AYỌ̀BÁMI ADÉBÁYỌ̀
AYỌ̀BÁMI ADÉBÁYỌ̀



AYỌ̀BÁMI ADÉBÁYỌ̀, an award-winning writer, is one of the most prominent contemporary African writers who has graced the writing scenery and painted artistry pictures of words with undaunted whispers that reverberate and subsequently metamorphose into an enchanting echo in each reader's ears. Her writings often explore the political, social, cultural, and domestic plights and the protruding difficulty often etched in the day-to-day life in the African setting. These explosive themes were evidently recognized in her recent publications and were listed by the Financial Times as one of the bright stars of Nigerian literature.

As one of the foremost Nigerian writers, taking the mantle from the likes of Chinua Achebe and Woke Soyinka, Ayọ̀bámi embarked on her writing journey in the early 2000s. Succinctly, in an interview with The Financial Times, she addressed the clog that impedes the progressive motion of the literary and publication communities in the then Nigeria. As she subtly described it:

"Few of the books by Nigerian writers that I could get easily had been published within a decade of my first encounter with them. There were occasional joyous discoveries, such as Breaking the Silence (1996), an anthology of short stories by Nigerian women edited by Toyin Adewale-Gabriel and Omowunmi Segun, but I didn’t read it until seven years after it was published."

Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ was born in 1998 and hails from Lagos, Nigeria. Shortly after, her family relocated to Ilesa and Ile-Ife, respectively, where she later spent most of her childhood. At an early age, her interest was often piqued by her parents' own novels, right before she could recognize the words on the pages. Her adroitness as a writer was influenced by the formidable university environment with a relatively improved social culture, which was instilled by her mother, who was equally educated in one. Being a person keenly absorbed into politics during her childhood days, she recalled the accretive excitement during an interview with the Guardian: 

"We would go to church on Sundays and pick up four papers and spend the rest of the day reading them and talking about what was going on... I remember becoming more aware of the structures of power in Nigeria, and being excited for myself about voting for the first time. Then thinking: ‘Well, what did that mean?’”

AYỌ̀BÁMI ADÉBÁYỌ̀



Describing her mother's assertive influence during her early teen years, she aptly says: "She said to me, ‘If you’re going to be a writer, you need to read all this.’" —a notable number of classic books in the Heinemann African Writers Series dominated by foremost generational writers such as Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe —"I had the privilege of growing up on a diet of literature from Nigeria and from other parts of the continent, alongside classics from the British Council library, which my mother used to take me to. I didn’t know what ‘winter’ was when I was six or seven, but I had read all these books set in it. I had no idea what ginger beer was for a long time.”
 
Influential books that further spurred her writing interest at this age are The Go-Between by LP Hartley, Ayi Kwei Armah’s The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born, and Buchi Emecheta’s Second-Class Citizen. Referring to the latter, "It made me want to write something that could be more luminous when re-encountered," she says. Other phenomenal books she notably revisited the most include TS Eliot’s The Waste Land, Sefi Atta’s Everything Good Will Come, Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman, Cheikh Hamidou Kane’s Ambiguous Adventures, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

Adébáyọ̀ bagged her BA and MA degrees in Literature in English at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, where she was introduced to the works of Tsitsi Dangarembga, a Zimbabwean writer, and also given her semi-autobiographical novel by her professor. At the university, she met a fellow aspiring writer, Emmanuel Iduma, to whom she was later married to in 2022. Their tied knot was publicly announced on Instagram through a covetous exchange of love messages and photographs exuding pure romanticism. He cites Roland Barthes, while Adébáyọ̀ quoted James Salter and CP Cavafy: “And, for me, the whole of you has been transformed into feeling."

She also holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia (UK), where she was awarded an international bursary. She has written for the New York Times, Harper’s Bazaar, The Financial Times, BBC, The Guardian (UK), ELLE, and several others. Additionally, she is a writer who has received prestigious fellowships and residencies from institutions such as the MacDowell Colony, Ledig House, Sinthian Cultural Centre, Hedgebrook, Ox-bow School of Arts, and Ebedi Hills.

In 2017, Adébáyọ̀ debuted with her critically acclaimed novel, "Stay With Me." In the same year, she won the Future Awards Africa Prize for Arts and Culture. Following that, Adébáyọ̀ has achieved remarkable milestones in her writing career and has been honored with numerous awards.

AYỌ̀BÁMI ADÉBÁYỌ̀



Adébáyọ̀ gained the critics attention and rose to fame following her debut novel, "Stay With Me," which was originally published by Canongate Books. Subsequently, the book was published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf and in Nigeria by Ouida Books. The New York Times described Adébáyọ̀'s storytelling prowess as exceptional, adding that: "She writes not just with extraordinary grace but with genuine wisdom about love and loss and the possibility of redemption. She has written a powerfully magnetic and heartbreaking book." 

Since its publication, "Stay With Me" has garnered acclaim through award nominations and victories. It was selected as the Notable Book of the Year by several publications, including The New York Times, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, and The Guardian. The book won the 9mobile Prize for Literature and was shortlisted for the Bailey's Women’s Prize and the Wellcome Book Prize. It was also longlisted for the International Dylan Thomas Prize and the International Dublin Literary Award. Additionally, the novel has been translated into twenty languages, with its French rendition by Josette Chicheportiche earning the Prix Les Afriques in 2020.

In 2021, Adébáyọ̀'s play, PROVENANCE, was produced by the University of East Anglia and Mutiny and exhibited as a multi-screen immersive installation.

In 2023, Adébáyọ̀'s second novel, "A Spell of Good Things," was published and equally received favourable reviews and critiques. The novel explores the story of two families who are caught in the riptides of wealth, power, romantic obsession, and political corruption. Offering some insights and glimpses into her writing escapades in "A Spell of Good Things," Adébáyọ̀ reminisces:

"The impulse to write often strikes when I’m observing others. Something in a face or manner grabs my attention. It is rare for me to write about it immediately because I can tell that I’m only glimpsing a shadow. The thing itself might stay hidden for days or even a few years. Ideas, especially the ones that become novels, come to me before I am ready for them. The wait before I write the first sentence is twofold. I wait for the figure casting the shadow I’ve glimpsed to come into view. Then, I wait for my skill as a writer to match up to the demands I feel a story has placed on me."

A Spell of Good Things was longlisted for the 2023 Booker Prize and described by The New York Times as having "graceful, stately quality of the sentences" that "evokes restraint, avoiding sentimentality."

Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀ has undoubtedly made her marks in the literary world by exemplifying the power of poignant storytelling with words that resonate far beyond the pages of the books. Her literary contributions not only celebrate the beauty of African storytelling but also challenge and expand the boundaries of contemporary literature.
 
 

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Pawners Paper: Featured Profile | Echoes of African Narratives: Tracing Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀'s Literary Footprints
Featured Profile | Echoes of African Narratives: Tracing Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀'s Literary Footprints
AYỌ̀BÁMI ADÉBÁYỌ̀, an award-winning writer, is one of the most prominent contemporary African writers who has graced the writing scenery and painted.
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