Olunosen Louisa Ibhaze is a Nigerian writer and poet who refers to herself as a “Simple Esan Girl”. She has two published novels Truly, Deeply and Authentic Mama, a children’s story, Dayo’s Lesson, and others. In this interview with TONY OKUYEME, she talks about her early encounters with books, Authentic Mama, feminism and other issues
What were your early encounters with books?
My parents always had bookshelves everywhere we lived and before I could read, I had colouring books.
What or who inspired you into writing?
I would say it’s an art that came naturally to me. Growing up, I had and still have a very active imagination. We moved around a lot and I took new and different experiences from every place we lived.
I was also surrounded by Television Programs like ‘Sesame Street’, ‘Voltron’, Walt Disney stories, ‘Tales By Moonlight’ and books by Enid Blyton and many others. In primary school, I would draw comics for my friends to read and these stories usually had moral lessons at the end which was typical.
When I got to secondary school, I started writing stories with foreign characters. My friends back then were my readers and would pass these handwritten stories around giving me their thoughts until it was completed. I read Cyprian Ekwensi’s ‘Jagua Nana’s Daughter’ and discovered the Pacesetters series! These opened my eyes to African stories about issues I understood, set in cities I could relate to and other African societies I had not read about.
You said that growing up, you wanted to be many things, first a Doctor, then a Lawyer, later an Astronaut, and many other things. At what point did Sociology and Anthropology come to the fore?
With an over active imagination like mine, I wanted to be many things. Sociology and Anthropology was the next option when I could not get into the Law program. I have no regrets; it turned out to be just what I needed. A little bit of everything without restrictions.
Your debut novel Truly, Deeply was published in May 2005 by Publish America. What inspired it?
Many of the love stories I read growing up I guess and in 2005, I was just two years into my first real job and a postgraduate student. When I read that book today, I have a good laugh, from the tacky title to the fact that I was not confident enough to use my full name. I was not bold enough to ‘own’ my art. Even though my writing, plot and character development has since improved and is still improving, “Truly, Deeply” takes me back to where it all began.
Why did it take this long to write your second novel, Authentic Mama?
I was still writing and sending out work to publishers and dealing with rejections from all these publishing houses. I did write short stories I published online, until I decided to focus on writing about what I knew and also carve a niche for myself by focusing on writing witty stories.
So, what inspired Authentic Mama?
My beloved Benin City! The city I spent my secondary school years. My Dad was the Commandant of the Police Barracks where we lived when we moved from the North. This barrack was right next to the Mobile Police Barracks. When we moved to our family house, it was opposite an Army Barracks. These were some of the most interesting years of my life as this was the period of the European migration boom where both young and old people were “janding to Europe”. We referred to them as “jandons”
As a teenager who had lived around three different barracks, there was no escape from all the drama and gist. Anyone who grew up in Benin City can easily relate to Iye Baby and her hustle without judgement and for those who did not grow up there, it is a peek into the lives of the lower crust of the society often unintentionally overlooked. There are always many Iye Babys’ and their rivals in every Barracks and the drama is not usually very different.
Their feuds are usually caused by similar a trigger which is usually gossip, money, sugar boys, other people’s husbands, angry wives and fellow mistresses in the same hustle. I simply put together the different “Iye Baby’s” I had come across through the years in these different Barracks and made them into one hilarious beautifully flawed character.
When I think of Paulina Omoregbe a.k.a Iye Baby, I don’t just see a hustling Sugar Mummy, I see hard work and human imperfection with a strong and amazing spirit.
Do you consider yourself a feminist writer?
If by feminist you mean “Social justice and Equality” then I would say yes but if you mean “Arrogant and unrealistic’ then I would say no.
I believe in a fair world where we all have mutual respect for each other irrespective of gender, social or marital status, if that makes me feminist, then I will “own” my views.
Besides writing, you also have a passion for passion photography. How do combine all them?
Honestly, I haven’t picked up my camera in ages.
Life just took over!
What is your take on reading culture and book publishing in Nigeria?
The reading culture in Nigeria is a work in progress and is getting better with book clubs and book meetups springing up in many cities.
Like every society in the world, we all can’t be readers and booklovers. It is important books are not only accessible but also affordable for readers.
Publishing and printing in Nigeria have overlapped. It is first a business before every other thing. Just like every hopeful writer who believes he or she has a great story desires to get published, publishers also want to publish books they can actually sell.