Britain, Ghana, USA
Can you tell us something about yourself (place of birth, school and anything in between)?
I was the only black baby born in the small town of Plattsburgh, New York so I made the paper, my mother tells me. A few years later, my parents moved to New York City and I grew up in Queens for most of my childhood. At 12, my parents decided to send me and my siblings to secondary school in Ghana. It was a life-changing experience for me–even then I knew I would write about it. I even said as much to a classmate and she told me “Just don’t go and exaggerate.”
What particularly motivated you to write this novel? And what motivates you to write in general?
I needed to get this story for a number of reasons. 1: I wanted to expose the superiority complex people in the West have concerning Africa. 2: I wanted to make the connection that just because a person is born outside the continent, he/she is not “other” and 3: I wanted to make the point that God works things for good–even when events in life seem random and ridiculous.
In general, I am motivated to write because it’s important to me not to be defined by someone else. If we leave the Storytelling to other people we can’t get too mad if they get it wrong. I also love writing–from the inspiration involved in coming up up with a concept to the discipline of the process to stringing the actual words together. I’m so thankful for the gift of words.
Which books did you find yourself reading whilst growing up and which are you currently reading?
I read a ton of romance novels when I was much too young to! My mom had a library full of Harlequin and Silhouette romance novels as well as Sidney Sheldon books. I devoured them all! I was also into book series–Sweet Valley High, Nancy Drew, the Girls of Canby Hall… I recently read Harmattan Rain by Ayesha Harruna Attah which I loved, as well as Sharon M. Draper’s Copper Sun.
Which writers have influenced your writing?
Buchi Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood is one of my absolute favourite books. I aspire to be as an insightful, informative, and elegant with my words. I also love Janet Fitch’s White Oleander, Chinua Achebe’s Man of the People, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone, Shauna Singh Bladwin’s What the Body Remembers… Basically, any and every writer who is able to authentically and honestly convey resilience of the human condition in unusual and extraordinary circumstances.
Which literary genre are you comfortable with and which did you begin with?
As a kid I always wrote short stories so I guess that was the genre I started with. Poetry, essays, and scripts come naturally to me as well.
What do you intend to achieve with your writing?
I hope to add my voice to the African authors before me, beside me, and behind me committed to creating balanced, engaging, informative, and authentic portraits of the continent. I don’t want to romanticize Africa, but I do want people to be aware that there is more to the continent than corruption, political unrest, war, disease, poverty, genocide and the rest.
Which writing style are you comfortable with and which do you find challenging?
I love to write poetry, dialogue, and description so I try to use these to shore up all my work. The biggest challenge for me when it comes to writing is time management. I work full time, try to stay social, and am easily distracted so it’s hard to discipline myself to stay solitary for long stretches of time and just write.
How difficult was it for you to become published?
For me, the hard part was not getting published, but finding a literary agent. It took me four years to find an agent who “got” the story of Powder Necklace.
Tell us something about your book, Powder Necklace.
A fictionalized account of my own experience leaving the States at 12 to school in Ghana, Powder Necklace is a transcontinental coming of age story about a girl trying to find herself as she is shuttled between London, Kumasi, Cape Coast, and ultimately the States. Though events in my life may seem random, the story encourages readers to believe that God is working everything out for good.
Do you keep diary entries?
I do! I’ve been consistently keeping a journal since 1994 and it’s been awesome to go back and read old diaries from time to time and see that the thing I was stressing at one point in my life turned out okay in the end or wasn’t even that big of a deal.
How did you feel when you saw your name on the cover of the book?
I felt like “That day has met that day,” I’d dreamt this and now I was holding the evidence in my hand. It was emotional and a little bit scary too. Now that I had the book out there, what next?
Has being published changed your life?
Being published has given me that extra shot of encouragement to keep on keeping on.
Reading around about you I see you do a lot of writing, are you into writing full time or is it a past time activity?
No, writing is not a past time activity for me. I write professionally as a Style Editor and Content Manager which is my full time gig. I also write freelance arts, entertainment and fashion articles for newspapers and magazines while pursuing longer format writing projects like novels and plays
What are your observations concerning the literary scene in Ghana?
I got the sense that it’s a small community but thriving. And it’s pure. The people who are in it aren’t just participating because it’s the cool thing to do–they really love words and appreciate their impact on culture as a whole.
What do you do apart from writing?
I’m a big fan of mindless television so when I’m not writing, I’m watching reality programs. In Ghana, I’ve become a fast fan of the soap opera Shades and Sin! Will Paco and Preda reunite? I also love to read and when it’s hot enough I hit the beach.
Can you tell us your memorable time in Ghana?
This one’s crazy. I was in full-on tourist mode, snapping photos of everything, particularly the different uniforms people wear in various government offices. I made the mistake of snapping a few men in uniform at Makola Market when all hell broke loose. The next thing I knew, I was being tugged by my arms in two directions by this group of men. They demanded my camera and asked that I follow them somewhere. I refused on both counts–all while shrieking like an animal–but I did have to take out the film in my camera. That was the day I woke up to the fact that Accra is a city and being New York-bred I needed to act like I knew how to comport myself in a metropolis.
Any work in progress?
Yes, I am working on a novel, that follows the evolution of a Ghanaian family from the mid-1960s to the present day.
Thank you for your time