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Interview with Lola Soneyin

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RW:  Let’s meet Lola Soneyin, First.

 

Lola: Ok, so I’m 46 years old, I am a mum of 4 children; I think I should just get           that out of the way because that’s probably the most important thing to me. I also run the AKE Arts and Books festival and the Kaduna Books and arts                  festival. I’m a publisher, I also run Reader Books, I’m also a book seller, so I       also run a book store at Ikeja GRA here, butI think the aspect of my life     that’s of most importance is the fact that I am a writer as well. I have written           three books and I have another on the way and a couple of children books.

 

RW:  Thank you for giving us that info. We have so…so much, but we                have such a little time. Let’ start straight from the literary aspect. I   know, and I can testify that we cut our teeth in the literary world      from those days – collage festival, writers’ workshop and all that. But, for        those who do not know yet, tell us what informed your interest in the      arts?

 

RW:  I think it’s primarily going to school in Edinburgh. I left for Boarding         school          in Edinburgh when I was 6 years old. And I went toa school where reading,   talking about books, and writing – thesethings were just   part of ordinary     day life. So, it was very much what I did every day. After lunch every    day    we had to read for 45mins, before bed, we had to read; you talkabout books,     your teacher is reading to you in the English lesson or asking one student to           read… So, it was just very much a part of my life; it wasn’t something that I        thought was particularly unusual. But I also feel that when I was about 7, I    got this book in school from… (that was written by PrinceCharles), and it         was called the ”Old Man of Lochnagar”… and for me that was my first           opportunity to be able to connect an author with the book. And so, you read         all these books and you know who wrote the books… from EnyBlyton… you           know who the authors are, but because most of the authors are dead, there’s a       way you remove the author from reading experience when you’re young. So,        I… very early-on, I was able to make that connection – somebody I knew was     in the papers all the time – somebody that was there in the society; very         visible to the writing of the book. So, I had the consciousness and an   awareness of what was possible. But even then, I didn’t think it was an area that I wanted to pursue.  I didn’t get that feeling, I didn’t get the vote of           confidence or the boost that I needed until I actually got to the Ogun State university, and it was a few of my lecturers who pushed me and told me that    my poetry was descent. And as soon as I left Uni, I joined the Association of          Nigerian Authors.

 

RW:  SesanAjayi on my mind now…

Lola:  Of course, we had SesanAjayi, but beyond that it was also people like Wale Oyedele, even TitiAdepitan… even erm… there was a man in … there was    a particular man who thought us creative writing…

 

RW:  LekanOyegoke…

 

Lola:  No…No… it was not him… I don’t know… It’s not hard for me to describe          anybody, I can describe him, I can see him before my eyes, but I can’t      remember the name. He thought us creative writing – I think in year 3 or      Year 4, and he inspired me a lot. And a lot of it just came from the positive     re-enforcement. And I think… you’re an academic, and I have spent a lot of       my years as a teacher and as deputy head at administration and schools, and         we must never, ever, ever underestimate the power of reinforcing to a     student that we find has potential or promise, being able to tell that child         and guide them in some way because those things that we say can make all the difference in a kid’s mind. So, I had… I still feel that I had amazing           lecturers while I was at the university; I thought I got a good kind of quality           education. That’s where I was introduced to all the African American          writers who I think of as biggest influence of my life as a writer. There’s so     much of my work that I lean on Tony Morrison… you know, that’s because I         was introduced to Alice Walker, NtozakeShange, Toni Cade Bambara,           Jamaica Kincaid – all those African-American, but also Caribbean female      authors. My Absolute love for all those writers was due to Wale Oyedele,           who didn’t stop talking about them. So, when I told him I wanted to write on Toni Morrison, he was so excited because it didn’t look like anybody had    done it. And I wrote that thesis which I put everything into and think I got           an A for it. And Professor NiyiOsundare; when I met him in UI         (University of Ibadan) – said that it could have scored the same if it were to       be a Master’s thesis and I was very proud! Not just me, but because of Wale Oyedele. He pushed me; he said “do more” … “this is not enough” … “go           and research on it”… you know… and then I will say ‘this man is trying to      kill me’. And when I saw the result by myself… so, I am just saying that as    teacher to teacher, this conversation that we have with our students are so        critical.

 

RW:  Really… really Wonderful… Let’s talk about your book (We don’t   have much time) Let’s talk about The Secret Life of Baba Segi’s          Wives. I know that those who are in the school of thoughts of Art for   Art’s Sake, would say, ‘Look, this piece, let’s take it as it is’ but, as a         realist, I want to always peep into that background that influenced those characters. Did you set out originally to write a feminist text, while writing that book?

Lola: No, no, I set out to write a story. It was a story that I had had when I was 14        years old – it was told to me by my brother’s girlfriend. Her name was Ann,    and she was a medical student at UCH. And I was in secondary school –          still very upset and angry after reading A Lion and A Jewelby Prof.   Wole Soyinka. So upset… like “what kind of man is this Baroka” is this all      my life is as a woman? I’m waiting here, and eventually I’ll be waiting for one man to come and sweep me off my feet! Where’s my life in all these? You   know… I was just a teenager and I was so angry! That, I didn’t feel that there were many… any books that… well, that there were many books that      kind of captured the survival instinct of the African Woman. And which           involves sometimes having to find alternative means of being able to stay     within this institution of marriage that many of them grew up being told   that they have to live and adapt to – live for, and adapt to. So, she was a           medical student, she came and said “oh. Lola, oh my God, I have to tell you     what happened in the hospital today…(and then she said) No, I have to tell     you what happened two weeks ago”. So, she started with that scene with     Baba Segi coming in to the hospital and started screaming and shouting,           and… all the doctors and nurses were just “what happened to this man just          shouting about his wife’s damaged womb and…”save me”bla … bla… So,        they did all that, that happened, and of course in the present tense at the time, that was when his wife had just gone to the doctors. And… not         Bolanle; the older one. So, I’m trying not to give away the plot because I         don’t know who the person is… but my point is – She told me that story and I got to find out some of the secrets, and I thought I was just phenomenal… I    wanted to write it as a play…and  It was of my way of getting back at “A          Lion and A Jewel”… but I never did write it as a play. And when I was           older and I had written my first Novel, it was “Juvenilia”, and I’d written my second Novel, we’d almost sold it and then… couldn’t. so, I was just so        miserable, and my agent said, “look, why don’t we just write another                             story?” And I said, there’s this story I’d wanted to write but I want to write         it as a play. Then she said “tell me in one minute”. Then as soon as I told          her, she said that is your next Novel.

 

RW:  So, at the end of the day, reality is interesting – more interesting      sometimes than fiction, you know … as people say…

Lola:  What if it’s stranger than fiction right?you know… sometimes… I mean, is          all fiction not mined one way or the other from reality? I mean… there’s so        many… even the mobile phones that we use now,… the iPhone and the apple       watch that we use and all that… you know, when these things were turning        up in novels… cyber novels, mystic novels… 30 years ago, everybody       thought people were kind of crazy. But here we are! It’s almost like once you    can think it, you can write it.

 

RW:  Exactly! Alright, would you say, that(like one scholar concluded),    that you were trying to condemn polygamy in that text… one scholar   said that, and another one projects that in creating Baba Segi, you were trying to recreate contemporary masculinity. Which one is it?         Or is it none of these?

Lola: Probably more of the latter. In terms of commentary; my commentary on     polygamy, I don’t make a secret of the fact that I think it is a very difficult    institution to survive in. And the reason I think that is very simple; it’s not     theoretical or anything. It’s simply that when you put people – especially           women in an environment that is so competitive (and I think this would be      true of any human being) it brings out the worst instinct. And that’s          because of the competitiveness of the environment. So, even the most benign,           the most… even the most kind of soft-spoken, lovely, generous, sweet woman         would often get into a polygamous situation, and in order to survive, they        have to change;because if they remained like that, people would walk all over        them, and take them for granted. So, what they do then is that; even when   you didn’t have a history of being… sort of resorting to your whiles, being           manipulative or slightly deceptive at times – even if that’s not your   character, eventually you will have to begin to embody that, because it   becomes… it’s about survival. And I think that sort of environment can be        very difficult for women, but I also thinkit’s complicated because you have     to change your personality. And I’m not sure how much good that does to the person, to the family, the impact on the children and the impact on the        wider society itself… So, polygamy in itself, I think is not the fairest of   institutions. I would like to see a situation where women (if they want to) could also acquire more husbands. No… it sounds funny … but …  because        that’s the only way to have any kind of… (I don‘t even want to say equality)           because that’s not what I’m looking at here, but just that fairness – the         freedom and fairness. When you talk about polyandry for instance, you see a         lot of men recoil in disgust. But it is all about socialization – it is what we’ve   been thought. Most women we have been taught that (includingmyself) …       the reason most parents teach us the way they do is so that we may be good     wives. The reason they tell us how to cook is so that we can cook in our           husbands’ houses. The reason they tell you ‘go and back that child’, ‘go and          do…’ is so that we can become a good mother. So, inevitably then, your life    as a woman is very much about service to others. Do you understand what I          mean? Rather than things undertaking and adopting elements that serve        you as a human being. But that’s because we live in a society also, where           women don‘t just have the opportunities and the choices that men have. So,     for me I talk about polygamy in that way but it’s not as if I see it as an         institution that’s anywhere fast. It’s just not; especially not in this society.          Things are so un-even, women are so alienated and removed from the        economic – the structured economic fabric of the country, that inevitably,     they will have to rely on men. And once you are in a situation where your economic survival has to depend on a man, you have to accept whatever is thrown at you… you don’t have a choice.

 

RW:  That’s the key-point there! Now, at the risk of judging or trying to    analyse beyond the ordinary … that text…but I could say that, don’t     you think that somehow you have also presented yourself as a victim of this patriarchal structure because at the end of the day, you      weren’t able to resolve the issues in the favour of the women; at the    end of the day, Baba Segi seems to have the upper hand. He had to give instructions to the women; ‘this is what I want… this is how you      must relate with each other from now on… this is what you must do         and all that…’ – deciding their fate so to speak. Is that because you       feel you are handicapped also, by those patriarchal structures in the           society?

 

Lola: No. I am certainly not. In fact, I enjoy immense privilege, just as an individual and as a human being. I live alone, my husband lives in another flat in my estate, because I told him I wanted to have my own space, I have          my own business, I run my own life, I look after my responsibilities, I in fact have in many ways I think a lot of people would consider to be a good deal of          what’s good about both worlds… so, I’m not hampered, I’m not restricted.

 

RW:  So, why do you not give them this freedom? Why did you not at the          end of the day give them the independence?

Lola: So, Bolanle got it…

RW:  In a way.

Lola: …she left. (but let me ask you a question…) but she left!she didn’t have a    choice. She was like, “one thing I’m hoping will root me to this place is not       gonna happen, and I’m not gonna follow the route that others follow. So, she    left. But let me ask you a question; do you remember when baba Segi asked      all the wives to live, how did they end up staying in the house? What           happened, how did that happen? Do you remember how in the end…

RW:  Thinking about their children…

Lola: Who? Who was thinking about children?

RW:  The women …

Lola: Do you not remember the speech that IyaSegi came and got on her knees,    and said ‘who is the Father’?

RW:  … It’s you, you brought them up.

Lola: But she had also mentioned earlier in the novel that she knew him well. She          knew… remember how she got him to agree for her to drive… for her to…       she knows how to press his buttons… and that’s the point I’m to make that it seemed like the man was there to saying ‘you must no longer go to the           shop…’ but how did they get to that shop? How did they get from there to…    how did they get from ‘get out of my house’ to that? Again, it was the         women.

 

RW:  With the subtle power.

 

Lola: Of course! Because they didn’t want to leave, because they didn’t want to             render their children fatherless (so to speak). However,they also knew… Iya   Segi knew exactly what to say to Baba Segi to make him change his mind.     And she also knew that ultimately, baba Segi too didn’t want to be seen as a man who had been dealt that kind of hand by women. So, it was safer for       him…

RW:  A man who is not a man.

Lola:  So, it was safer for him to also keep them. And the truth is – (and we must never ever forget this, because this is something that’s really important to me about the novel … that I think a lot of people miss); for mostof my        life …           both the personal and for personal reasons …and from most of the things I          have read and come to understand, I have had reasons to really think about what is it exactly that makes a person a father? And the most of the           conclusion that I have reached is that it has very little to do with sperm      donation. It has everything to do with raising a child, loving a child,       building a child’s confidence, making sure the child does not suffer, having interest in things that the child is interested in, helping a child and making sure they don’t suffer. You cannot deny that Baba Segi played his part as a           father.So, are we going to say he’s not a father to those    children because    he did not donate the sperm? The other thing is I have           heard men say       things like ‘I can never live with another man’s child in myhouse… I can       never do this … I can never do that… I just think it is so          wrongheaded.       And has its basis in …

 

RW:  The Patriarchal socialization.

 

Lola:  Patriarchy! Yea, and a stupid level of patriarchy for that matter because it’s           almost… It’s dehumanizing for this child who didn’t have to be born (do you   know what I mean?) So, for me, the book is also a commentary on what   Fatherhood really is.

 

RW: So, you are trying to recreate the contemporary masculinity      now; of men who nurture rather than who sire…

 

Lola: Yes! Yes! Well, I’m trying to (and I say I’m trying to, but it wasn’t really   trying actively) but what I was doing – it was more about what was        happening in my mind, and I keep making sure that I put my thoughts   down while pointing to issues that are really important for me. And for me,    even with the wives, they all represent certain aspect of the society that I felt           needed attention.

 

RW: Hmmm… wonderful! That’s so great. Maybe finally on Baba segi…

Lola: Wait! What was the second question you had? There was one about Polygamy and the other about redefining masculinity.

 

RW:  And the new socio… the new socio-solution to male infertility (I       guess, that men don’t have to donate the sperm to be fathers)

 

Lola:  They don’t! But also, but of course, I am not advocating for what they call paternity fraud… you know, these days… or saying that women should go      and do that as a solution. Number one, I can totally understand how it        became a solution and why. You know… But I also feel that…that if men are    more open, and if men can accept their vulnerability… Look at it for      instance, doctor; in any Family where…, any time; look at the church         situation – churches Pentecostal – altar call: ‘women who are barren,         women who          are looking for children, women who need… come out!’ how        many times have you heard a pastor say“ men who have low sperm count,      come out!”?

 

RW:  It’s always about the women!

 

Lola: Exactly!

 

RW:  So, that was also something that was bugging me. And I’d kind of followed          that through all my life, wondering why people would always say that, why      immediately there is a problem in the relationship – it’s the woman who’s         got an issue – who’s barren. Whereas clearly, probably a good 50% of the    time, it’s actually the man.

 

RW: There are barren men too…

 

Lola: But even the religious institutions do not… even they cannot   challenge     patriarchy.

 

RW:  Everybody is subdued within the patriarchal structure….

Lola: The reason don‘t bring the men out… yea! They don‘t bringthe men out     because they consider it to be humiliating for the man.

RW:  The ego of the man.

Lola: But the woman can be used to mop the floor anytime…

RW:  Unfortunately…

Lola: Her emotions don‘t matter – you know what I mean….

RW:  Unfortunately! Thank you, so incisive, so, sointeresting. Let me                  congratulate on your new steps, on trying to turn the book into a      film. What are your expectations on that, we can’t pass bye without        talking about that?

Lola: Ok… It doesn’t have much to do with me. And I have to say that all the      credit has to go to Mo Abudu, who has loved this book from 2017, and has       been following me and just saying we have to do this book, Ebony Life has to    do this book. And I was very excited. I was excited because it was an African         woman that was doing it, and also an African … because that’s very   important to me. One of my crusades has been the fact that Mariama Ba’s    book “SoLong a Letter” (for instance) was translated by a Nigerian who could speak French. Therefore, you had even though… we have this… you    know… ridiculous bordersem, em, that totally dis.. sort of disrupt what         ordinarily should be more kind of comprehensive, like- better functioning           nations states that has not just been divided for the wiles of colonisers, but   the result is that in Africa, a book can travel from one part to the other, and        there’s full understanding because in many ways, an African instinctively       understand the issues of another African, we may ignore it, but most of the           time,once we don’t, we can get it.

RW:  We do.

          So, it was that very reason, and seeing the decline of that system – so, what           we have now is… so, for instance, my novel; available in the UK; to be available in the French market (because it’s being translated into French) it                    had to travel to France; to a European woman, who translated it – would     call me and say “ oh this…what is this about, what does this mean… and                    all…?” And all the time I was thinking to myself, my experience would          probably be different if this book was translated by a black person or by a      Nigerian who understands French… who could do the translation.

RW:  The nuances…

Lola: Yes,so, that journey of going to France, to come back to Africa, for me is just a long and ridiculous journey, when it could just be going from Africa to Africa, even though there’s going to be a language change. So, part of what I am really interested in, just as an activist but also as part of what I do within the culture space, is to make sure that Africa retains as much as they can; so, if there’s a story that is going to be  adaptedfor stage, if it is an African story, how great would it be if it were also adapted by another African, or by another (and of course, for me it’s also critical to get women to take part in theseprocesses) because, you know Africa would be ruled so much better if we had women leaders. And I just strongly believe that men are – a lot of them are inequipped for leadership in a way that women simply are not. Women are; from the minutes we grow up actually, they are being imbued with different elements of which constitutes really good leadership – you know, looking after things, taking care of things in a way that     men are not.So, for instance the idea of a woman, being the one who is kind       of driving the film was very interesting to me and very important to me. So,    I’m as fascinated, I’m as interested, I’m as excited as everyone else, but I’m         not an integral part of the process.

 

RW:  I truly, truly hope that we’ll get something very, very fantastic as we        hope in the film. Let’s move on to Ake, our time is fast running…         Ake, Ake, Ake festival! What influenced your… turning your    attention to such a big event for arts, in a situation, in a country, in a society where (well), the passion for arts seems to be dying? Is that         something you are trying to address, and do you believe that literature can change the world? Two questions in one!

 

Lola: Absolutely! The last question, absolutely. We’ve just introduced something called, “one read”, which is an app that the people can download, which has        at the moment, you can get a book, a contemporary fantastic novel on the         app for $1 a month, and it divides the book into 21 parts so that you literally     read with everybody else over 21 days. And you also can create a book club     within the app and interact with other people, members of your book club, as           you are reading. But this is only 3month old, we are about to start our 4th   novel in … maybe tomorrow. But I strongly believe that we have a problem         with empathy on the African continent, and I think that a lot of ills that we     see around leadership, (and  I focus a lot on leadership and governance. I         mean, you won’t hear me talk about this much because, I’m kind of known as   somebody who is within the culture space, but the negative the corrosive           impact and influence that poor leadership has had on the people being led,   the idea that you have leaders who are so insensitive and so out of touch with         the needs of the ordinary man; a lot of them has to do with lack of empathy –         which is actually again (what I was saying earlier; we girls are brought up         better  and the ways boys are brought up) that thing means that the men         who become leaders don‘t have empathy or the empathy switch is broken in      their brains. It has a lot to do with the way they were brought up.

RW:  By Women…

Lola: `If your sister was told “you go and make Amala” and “you go and play     football” from that time, boys don‘t only develop a sense of entitlement about their space in the world, that they are there for fun, they are there to enjoy,       and the women are there to work… but even at the point when mummy       makes those decisions, not daddy right? The boy by … the more that boy           goes out to play football, the more boys disconnect from the experience of the          girl, who while he is having fun, is making Amala. Where I’m going with        this is that, when leadership lacks empathy because these men are really the       men who were once boys, right; and as such, when they are leading and in   governance, that lack of empathy; you can almost always see it. And I really          believe that reading is one of the ways that we can actually help people           reconnect with the emotions of others.

RW:  Hmm….

Lola: Even in terms of space, a Nigerian… something happens in Mozambique,   and I’m like “sorry o.” and I move on. But the day I read a book from an     author from that country, and I read about the characters that I care about,   when next I hear about Mozambique, I’ll be like “hey, my character’s       people!’ You know, we make those connections…

          You know, like my big sister was telling me that when she was in South      Africa, the entire academic elites during the civil war were all on the Biafra         side, and he was explaining that the reason was because they had read    things         fall apart. That was the only reason. So, all they could relate to was the people from the region that things fall apart was set was kind of based on … that’s the reality of our lives! Without books, or with the poor diet of what    weread, if you are only reading the Holy books right, you are limiting your       own scope as a human being because you are not getting the full story. You      have to read fiction, and that is the power of fiction. Non-fiction is great and          so are history books and everything, but fiction can touch you in ways that   sometimes other kind of texts can’t. And it’s great for developing the empathy switch. So, that’s one of the things that is important to me – the         fact that I really do believe that arts can change the world. I’m sold on it, I     have seen it happen. I’ve seen it happen at Ake festival. I’ve seen people come   to Ake festival and leave, and tell me that I’m leaving but I’m telling you   that I’m never going to be the same again. Because of the things they’ve      heard and because        of the interactions that they’ve had. I used to be a very    active member of the Association of Nigerian authors, but they have the          annual convention, and the annual convention consists most of writers, and      journalists. So, it was quite an insular… organization. But I from writing                  Baba Segi and visiting a lot of festivals around the world, I was… I realized           that actually, 90% of the people who attend these events are non-writers.        They are just people who are there to experience, enjoy and to meet, to show           their enthusiasm… and I thought to myself that we need to have something          like that in Nigeria. So, I thought to myself “ok, I could say we need and        we’d be waiting for the person to do it” but that’s not my character because I      was brought up… hmm… I have,.. I’m the youngest of 6 children, and I                 have 5brothers. And right from when I was young, whenever I was angry     with my brothers, my mum would say, “calm down – be calming down.’..       you are their mother. You are their mother. That you have to love the, you   have to help them, when they are married, when they… you’d be the one        they’ll look to…”so, even though I was the last and my eldest brother is 12   years older than me, I’d always thought I had a responsibility to do certain        things… you know, it’s crazy but it’s great. So, I’m not a sort of person         therefore whowhen things are to be done, I’ll just sit and say, let’s wait for   somebody to do it. No! I go out and I do it! I go out and I do it, because I can!  I go out and I do it because I have the skills. And what skill do I have? I   spent 13years as a teacher in Nigeria and in the UK. (no. not 13 years, less)    but the idea is for me… I know how to organize things, I know how to get     involved in tome tabling for 400 or 500 students withing a school. So, how          different are the skills that I need to bring to organizing a festival, to make        sure that people are happy, that people are exited, that people are engaged?      So, I really wanted to create something like that because I believed that in          Nigeria… if Nigeria can’t have a world class literary festival on the           continent, thatcaters to black people, that caters toAfricans, then who else? It just didn’t make any sense to me, that we didn’t have a festival that was –           you know, kind of causing the right – making the right kindof noices, and      disrupting the status quo. So, the idea was to start that, and for that reason,   and lastly and this is a simple one – honestly, I really just wanted to expose      as many people as possible, to what I call my pursuit of excellence. So,           everything that I do, I try to raise the standardsvery high. I work largely     with young people who are kind of out of uni, mid-twenties… and part of it          again is showing them what they can achieve with dedication, with hard          work, with patience, with drive, and a lot of them are girls, a lot of them are           women – and for that reason also, I really need them to understand that they      don‘t have anything to fear, and if they go out into the world to do certain         things, they will look behind them and find an army. And I really want them       to have that sort of self-confidence.

RW:  That’s really significant. That’s really significant. A wonderful idea          and action. Is there something fresh, something unique that we       should expect as a feature in Ake this year, or you don‘t want to let it    out yet.

 

Lola: No. There’s a lot. The program isn’t out but the guests are out, so you        can already see that we have a hundred and Eighty amazing speakers     this    year, this would be the largest that we’ve ever had. And I think     what’s also   amazing this year is the fact that it’s online. And apart from being on line           there is about to be another way to access the festival but we haven’t        announced it yet. We have MouriceSpondeias a headliner, of course   we     have professor Wole Soyinka who will be joining us as well, and then         wehaveTayari Jones, the winner of     the women‘s prize, I think last year or          the year before, we have   Marlon James – the winner of the booker prize..

RW:  Wao! Amazing…

          We have… Oh God they are so many!Where and how do I start? You         know, I talked about… (It’salso quite a pan-african gathering. This       is       unusual, and I find it – the people find it unusual sometimes; but           when           I think of Africa, Africans and what needs to be done, sometimes I feel     it’s not the conversation that we can have just as   Africans, and that you    know, black people all over the world also have to somehow get involved in that conversation – don‘t forget that Ake Festival – they call it the largest convergence of black creatives in the world. And that is a thing of huge pride for me – the           fact that it’s largely, mostly Africans; where it’s non-Africans     they   are talking about Africa, because we don‘t have a lot of spaces,       where          we can just be in our feelings, our space – we can own it,          whiteness is not     the center, Europeans or whatever values…. they are not centered in Ake    Festival. What is centered or what is central          to us is the experience     of       blackness and the experience of Africaness.

RW:  What are the Challenges you face, putting together this wonderful   event?

Lola: Fund raising is probably the biggest challenge that I face. Yes! These           are           frightenlyexpensive, they are not cheap.But let me tell you some of the

RW:  So, how have you been coping?

Lola: We’re very lucky. For the past 3 years now, we’ve had Sterling Bank          as       partner. They’ve just stood by us like ‘we love this festival, we’re going everywhere with it’… even this year, when I said guys, let’s leave it, this     Covid thing is going to…. They said nono, no;‘No time   is bestas this one,   we are going to have this festival and we want it   to be online… A few           weeks later, googlealso joined as one of the    partners… yea, it’s amazing     about the journey. And it’s another         thing that I hope inspires young        people …that when you stay with an       idea, it’s not easy. These things are     never easy… butyou almost      have to take the challenges as part of the  journey. If you are driving from Lagos to Ibadan, the journey is never           going          to be easy… there would be some bumps and…there are different levels you           just have to go through as part of the journey. Then strengthen yourself               with           resiliencebut also be driven. Be goal oriented and just keep going.       And that’s part of what I have done. You are not going to get rich by          organising a festival, there is very little in the literary ecosystem that is     particularly lucrative or profitable, but I do it because I feel that I have   to do it. And I have to, and somebody has to. And when I        seemore people       coming in to the space looking to start more    festivals,I just get really excited. We’ve supported for instance, the          guys who started the Gaboroni Festival in Botswana, every year for   instance I make sure I am at the      Bantu festival in South Africa…So, the idea of just being around, to          support, to offer help to others…

 

RW:  Being the Literary mother.

 

Lola: I don ‘t think I’m a literary mother, I’m a bit young for that… But do          you    know, we learnt just, (and it’s not just literature) it’s culture, it’s film      it’s dance, it’s theatre, it’s all the aspects of the arts and I think    they’re all    important.We have somuch unemployment with the youth. And there is so     much that can be done, we don’t even have like     a proper dance group in      this country… with all the beautiful dance steps that we have in this          country, we have none… those are the          things that amaze me. If I have money         now, I’ll just go to Badagry or somewhere and start one. And that’s why I should have married a billionaire.

 

RW:  That’s my last question, cos our time is fast spent. But on a lighter    note, there is a very important question I’ve been meaning to ask you… Is it because of this your passion for literature and the arts, and everything that you sort out the man that is your husband?

Lola: I don’t know

RW:  Was it deliberate on your part to search him out?

Lola: No, no… I wish it were. But unfortunately it’s not. We have such an          interesting relationship, and we have… We’ve been together now, going to         22 years. No, I didn’t… It was just about the person. It was just about the     person. And I think he would probably say the same. You know… we met in   Nigeria, he came back to see me in Nigeria, then I went to America, and we   got married in Manhattan. We got married on the 3rdoccasion that we           actually ever saw each other. Lots of our love happened over email and phone        calls cos he was living in England and I was living in Nigeria. We just… we           communicated like crazy, and I think he’s just an incredible person. There’s           so much that I am, and I … and I guess I could sense it somuch about him ,    cos he was kind of different,because he is somebody who has never ever         tried to stop or get in the way of any of my dreams…

RW:  He can’t be son of an icon and not be different…

Lola: This is true! You know, what you’re saying is so true. You know what…  I          was having this conversation with my best friend yesterday and she was saying something about my children…. And I said, you know, that’s how we see it. She said, Lola, actually I don‘t know why I am saying this, you and         Olaokun; how else would they be?They’re going to think in that way. But     he’s also just somebody who doesn’t quite have a sense of this concept of “    you shouldn’t do certain things because you are a woman’. It just doesn’t          exist for him. He has so much respect and regard for women. He thinks that    women are just the business. And with me he’s also just, just always in the    back, just quietly …He likes a lot of silliness as well. So, if we go somewhere   now, and they are dancing and they say somebody should come and shake           their   bum-bum on stage, and I’m sitting there jejely drinking my Oringin.         He’ll say, Lola, nah, why do you want to spoil today for everybody? He has      such a great sense of fun, and he has always been areal rock for me, like         “just go, yes! Do it, you can do it…” He is the first person who reads my         book, he wanted to be a writer as well, but he decided not to, because there’s                very little… even me that I am a daughter in law that I was a writer…

RW:  Baba has done everything for everybody …

Lola:  People still sometimes ay that it’s because of Professor Soyinka that my book          is successful. And the thing is that what I deliberately did… What I      deliberately did when the book was published; I just asked them to send one to his house. That’s it. He didn’t even know that I was reading it. He read it          and he sent me his comments, and I thought it was interesting.

RW:  It should be interesting. Let me round off on this, how does it feel to          be the daughter-in-law of our Darling Papa Nobel Laurette,      Professor Soyinka, how does it feel?

 

Lola: I’m not sure that I have a lot of special privileges, I have to be honest, But I have my own relationship with him. You know, I havea relationship with      him prior to even meeting my husband, to be honest. And I think he is an absolute (God…) such a blessing to this country, to this continent and of       course to the world. I’ve never met… We are lucky that we are alive to be in      the same space with this man, and I say this because… every time I interact          with him, I remove myself from being a daughter-in-law, and I try to always     relate to him as just a writer that I admire immensely, and every time I   interact with him it’s a learningexperience, his breadth of…his interest, his      view on the world, this the total absence of malice in his personality, there’s          so much about him that’s admirable, and he is worthy of all the respects, all      the accolades and all the regards that we can muster. He is a truly      remarkable human being. Beyond being my father in law, I can’t even make          this comments based on that. It’s just as a human being, and I admire him     immensely. And it’s a great honour to be able to have him at Ake Festival         again.

RW:  Honestly we envy you… for having this great opportunity. Thank   you so, so much Lola Soneyin for being my guest for today, I really         have enjoyed our time together.

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