A Q&A with Ghanaian author Naa Dedei Botchwey. Where she discusses her background in writing and her published book of poems.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
The earliest I remember is primary 3. I started reading early as my parents bought me storybooks consistently.
As a young child, I admired the writers of the story books I read and the poems I was taught in school, even though I had not fully grasped the concept of writing as a profession.
I even attempted some short stories and read them to any teacher who would listen. The next time the idea of writing became very profound, I was in class 5 when I read a fascinating story about a young boy who was abandoned by his mother but was guided by the gods and elements as he grew up.
I don’t remember the title. It was a difficult book for my age but I enjoyed it and wanted to create something that someone would enjoy the same way. The next time was in my first year of senior high school when I read a short story titled Daisy from a university magazine. This time, I could not stop thinking about the story until I reproduced it from my memory about a year later. I shared it with some of my classmates who loved the story a lot but immediately became mean and said there was no way I could have written that on my own.
It hurt me to agree with them, but I challenged myself to write something they would enjoy as much. And that’s how I wrote my very first poem, “This World” and shortly after, my second poem, “To Our Destiny”.
Do you read a lot? What books do you enjoy reading?
I consider myself as someone who reads a lot. I enjoy memoirs, autobiographies, and biographies the most. Also accounts for big issues affecting countries and celebrated leaders. I used to read a lot of fiction: John Grisham, Sydney Sheldon, and the Nightmare Street series among others. My first non-fiction was a book about Barack Obama and I was hooked.
I still read fiction sometimes now, but ones that are closer to reality. Those techniques are called Realisms or Verisimilitudes. Some favorites are The Kite Runner and Americanah.
What inspired you to write “sour, sweet, or whatever” and to come up with such a title?
I wrote “Sweet Sour or Whatever” over a 15-year span. At first, I did not intend to publish it but I started thinking about publishing about 5 years before it actually happened. All that while, I was still writing. Inspiration for my poems came from everything around me. Experiences, people, the pain and joy I felt at different times, etc.
I like to remind my readers that each poem has a piece of me in it. It took about two days of on-and-off brainstorming to come up with the title. I wanted something that captured all the different emotions that one would experience when reading the collection, which covers very diverse subjects.
What is the most difficult part of your writing process?
I would say there were exactly two types of challenges. First, is when I get inspiration at a time or place where I cannot isolate myself to write. When I get the urge to write, I immediately start writing and that’s when I produce my best work. There have been poems that were never written, and some that I left out of the collection because I could not get away to write them, and when I got the chance to write, I was not impressed with the results. In fact, I published a few that I feel that way about, but others, I was not willing to compromise on.
The second challenge is the fear of criticism about a difficult subject. I wrote about gender, sex, and politics among others. My poems are uncensored. I believe they are always true, at least from one side of the spectrum. And sometimes, I feel afraid that my readers will have funny feelings toward me because of something I wrote. But I write them anyway because that’s my truth.
What impact do you want your book to have on your readers?
I want them to think about the subjects and hope that it affects change in them. As I mentioned earlier, inspiration comes from all things that happen around me and the poems are uncensored. That means the subjects are very familiar and most people will have opinions about them. However, I have written raw truths. And truth makes many people uncomfortable because as people, we like to twist it to serve ourselves. But when you read my poems, you will be face to face with the real truth. It won’t be fair to say they are absolutely objective. Of course, they are from my point of view. But I stepped away from situations as much as possible to write about them.
Would anyone in your family or close to you disapprove of anything you’ve written?
They have not said it to my face but I believe so. Gender issues are lopsided against women, so I quietly expect that some men won’t be happy with what I write about gender, and that includes men who are close to me. I also write about sex; there aren’t many of those but they could get my mum’s heart to skip a beat. *laughs*
Who has been the biggest supporter of your writing?
My family. I am blessed with the most loving and supportive family.
Do you think being a successful female author in Ghana is easy? If not, tell us why? If yes, explain.
This question is tricky. It depends on your definition of success. I honestly think being successful at anything in Ghana is quite tough. As women, we have to deal with gender bias, which makes most things a notch tougher. That said, the literary space itself, I am not sure it gets the same level of respect and attention as other professions, plus there is the thing about Ghanaians not being readers generally. I am not sure how to answer this, as I think the factors are many and the conversation is not ripe. But in my opinion, being a successful author generally in Ghana is a challenge.
What advice would you give to other women who want to release their book?
I do not know what is keeping them from publishing, but like everything we aim to achieve, there is no better time than now. Time and tide wait for no one. The recent inflation means that it will cost much more to publish your book now. There are other factors that will affect it also, and as time goes by, conditions will keep changing socially, economically, and personally.
The earlier the better is all I can say. Also, they do not have to wait for the perfect literature. Celebrated writers started small. Of course, do some due diligence for your own sake and ensure to learn about publishing and do the right thing. However, books that are published can be updated and republished, so they should not hold back because they think the book is not good enough. Get your name out there as an author first and things will fall in place.
Would you share something about yourself that your readers don’t know (yet)?
I have a very old diary that has several book titles and book ideas of my own written in it. I started compiling it during my first year of university. I have not added on for a while now but there’s enough to fill a library.
What are your thoughts on VICTRICES BOOKS? Are you also in support to inspire more women into reading and writing?
Absolutely! So much has been said about reading and its benefits, and this is good for women as it is good for men. Aside from that, we know that globally, women, especially black women have been left behind in so many aspects of life because of gender inequality and racism. For this reason, women, especially black women, owe it to themselves to read even more. Among all the things that can be done towards addressing the issue of the plight of black women, reading is one. When you read, you will be equipped to sit at any table, stand in any room and be part of any conversation towards making the world a better place for women, especially black women. And when you have all this knowledge from reading, of course, who tells your truth better than you? So write it.
I have bought books from Victrice’s for a while now, and now you sell my books. I love Victrices for being so deliberate, for not just selling books for profit but using it as a venture for a meaningful cause, for encouraging women to read, and for attempting to change the world. Also, your books are very clean and I love your customer service.