Ayesha Harruna Attah is a Ghanaian-born writer, who currently lives in Senegal. Her book ‘The Hundred Wells of Salaga’ has recently been published by Cassava Republic Press and has so far been highly rated. She is also the author of the acclaimed novel ‘Harmattan Rain’, which was shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Best First Book. It follows three generations of women as they cope with family, love and life. In this interview, I am asking her questions about her tastes in literature, the inspiration behind her latest book, and what it means to be a female African writer.
Q: How long have you been an author for?
A: Officially, since 2007.
Q: What was the first piece of writing you published?
A: An article in my parents’ newspaper, The Accra Mail. I think it was about the grand opening of a chocolate shop in the city.
Q: What inspired you to become an author?
A: It was from reading writers who wrote deeply about place and the people who occupied those spaces. My side of the world was just as beautiful, complex, and mad; I thought, I could write about this place.
Q: How often do you write?
A: Every day, except for the weekend.
Q: What was the inspiration behind your latest book ‘The Hundred Wells of Salaga’?
A: Learning that my great great grandmother had been enslaved. It was a story that plagued me until I put it on paper.
Q: What would you say is the most challenging thing about being a female writer?
A: I think it’s being pigeonholed. I remember being asked a few times if my first book was chick lit, which is all well and good, but I don’t think a male writer gets asked such questions.
Q: What is your favourite literary genre?
A: Literary fiction with a twist of magic realism.
Q: On average, how often do you read?
A: Since becoming a mother, not as often as I’d like. I try to wake up early to get in 15 to 20 minutes of reading, but most mornings, as soon as I turn on the lamp, I hear a sniffle, then a “Mamaa!” And we don’t even sleep in the same room.
Q: Which book has influenced you the most?
A: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Q: Who would you say is your favourite author of all time?
A: It’s a tie between Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison.
Q: Do you have any preference in terms of books that you like to read when you’re on holiday?
A: With an active toddler, reading is such a treat, so I don’t limit myself to genre. I read anything I can get my hands on, sadly, the shorter, the better. I miss losing myself in a nice, long read, which is what I loved doing on holiday.
Q: In your opinion, what is the most underrated book of all time?
A: No Sweetness Here, by Ama Ata Aidoo.
Q: What do you prefer reading? E-Books or Paper Books?
A: Paper books.
Q: Would you say, in your opinion, that writing as an African author is an act of rebellion (a pathway to liberation)?
A: It shouldn’t be an act of rebellion, but for now, it is. Being an African author shouldn’t be any different from being a doctor or teacher. It’s a profession that one crafts with time and care.
Q: Where do you do most of your writing? In a designated space or just anywhere?
A: Mostly from a little nook in my room. It overlooks a nice garden.
Q: When in your creative zone, what works best for you? Typing on your phone/tablet/computer or writing on paper with a pen?
A: Typing on my computer and doodling in my notebook.
Q: What would be your best advice for aspiring authors?
A: Read, read, and read!
Q: What is your favourite book that has been published this year?
A: Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi.
Q: Which forthcoming book do you look forward to the most?
A: She Would Be King by Wayetu Moore.
Q: Chinua Achebe or Wole Soyinka?
A: Chinua Achebe.