Q&A: Words on the Times – Dami Ajayi

Limbe to Lagos“Here are stories that are true … because they are windows that open into our contemporary African existence” (Editors’ Introduction, Limbe to Lagos, p. xi).”

AiW note: Last week we published a review by Kwame Osei-Poku: A Sense of Africa in The Exploration of Reminiscences: A Review of  Limbe to Lagos: Nonfiction From Cameroon and Nigeria. Compiled by Dami Ajayi, Dzekashu MacViban, and Emmanuel Iduma, Limbe to Lagos (2020, The Mantle) is an edited collection of non-fiction narratives that brings together ten writers pooled from Nigeria and Cameroon.

We were also able to catch up with Osei-Poku, a lecturer at the Department of English, University of Ghana, Legon, for his Words on the Times – an AiW Q&A set intended to connect the blog’s communities through their experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic – which you can read here.

Today, in our Limbe to Lagos mini-series, we are excited to share one of the editor’s of Limbe to Lagos, Dami Ajayi’s Words on the Times. As well as his experiences of working as a doctor and a writer during COVID-19, speaking to us as an editor of Limbe to Lagos, Ajayi discusses the genesis of the book, its development and facilitation of the workshop that it emerged from, and its publication into the #COVOID for books in the pandemic.

When we discussed the book’s release with indie publishers The Mantle (based in NYC) back in August, they suggested some novel ways we might be able to be in touch and support Limbe to Lagos and others. You can find this conversation at the foot of Osei-Poku’s Q&A, but given the significance of our support for indie published books in these times, purchase details for Limbe to Lagos and an invitation from the Mantle are also included here – below Dami Ajayi’s Words…

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AiW: Could you tell us a bit about your involvement with Limbe to Lagos and the ways that the pandemic has affected your plans for it or things on the ground there with you?

Dami Ajayi: Dzekashu MacViban must have visited Lagos at least twice since 2014. We (Emmanuel Iduma, Adebiyi Olusolape – our poetry editor emeritus at Saraba, and myself) knew of his work which had appeared in our magazine, Saraba. He spent some time at our commune in Lagos mainland and the earliest ideas of this cross-country collaboration began to filter through barroom banters back then. After the Ake Festival of 2015, we had a clearer idea of what it should be. Non-fiction. A Workshop. An anthology. Then funding became the next problem. The dynamic Safurat Balogun of Goethe-Institut found it to be a good idea and we sort of took off from there. It became a cross-cultural collaboration between Nigeria and Cameroon and because the Goethe-Institut centres in both countries were involved, one could say Germany was inevitably involved.  I worked on the concept of the exchange, the selection of participants, facilitation of the workshop in Limbe, mentoring the selected participants, editing the nonfiction pieces, finding a suitable printer and to an extent, the distribution of the edition published on the African continent.

The US edition was released smack in the middle of the first wave of Covid-19 and the necessary Black Lives Protests, so plans around giving the book a well-deserved international tour fell flat on its face. Also, the contributors who used to live in Nigeria and Cameroon when we published had relocated all around the world. It became even more difficult to arrange a promotion tour. At the time, I had also just relocated to London and Ms Balogun had been seconded to Goethe-Institut in New Delhi India. Dzekashu MacViban was travelling in Europe a lot and Mr Iduma had family business to attend to.

In what ways are you working now that you weren’t before? 

Covid-19 has changed the world and the way we live. Lockdowns have meant that we invent new ways of working, relying heavily on technology. As a writer, however, the work has hardly changed, because it is still that solitary experience of staring at a blank page and blinking cursor. As a doctor working through a pandemic within a different culture, it has been a roller coaster of sorts, watching mankind battle a novel and unkind virus. It has been unnerving and also quite unravelling sometimes, but our humanity is resilient, I hope.

What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in this time?

The old tricks of music, good literature and a few good friends is very helpful. My Spotify playlist is a cache of beautiful African rhythms hoisted in nostalgia of better times when hugs and handshakes were safe, when gatherings and mirth making was a thing.

Every now and then, I put out my vinyl player and play a decent record and daydream about how this music served a different time, when birthday parties could be expansive and intimate all at once, where children could gather and their minders will cluster too, listening to the latest records, giving their bodies to dance, music and companionship. Something Zoom can’t quite replace.

How can our blog communities support you?

With Limbe to Lagos, blogging about our work suffices. These conversations animate publicity. Kwame Osei-Poku’s generous review which Africa in Words kindly published has gone full circle so that one of my associates sent it my way. I am grateful on behalf of myself and my co-editors.

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Dami AjayiDami Ajayi studied Medicine and Surgery at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria where he co-founded the literary magazine, Saraba. His first volume of poems, Clinical Blues, longlisted for the Melita Hume Prize and the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa. His second volume of poems, A Woman’s Body is a Countrywas a finalist for the Glenna Luschei Prize.

His critical reviews of music, film and popular culture have appeared in Chimurenga Chronic, Guardian UK, The Africa Report, Lost in Lagos Magazine, The Elephant, Bakwa Magazine, Afropolitan Vibes Magazine and also in translation in Das Goethe (a Die Ziet supplement).

He maintains a column on popular culture at The Lagos Review which he also co-founded.

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AiW Review: A Sense of Africa in The Exploration of Reminiscences: A Review of  Limbe to Lagos: Nonfiction From Cameroon and Nigeria 
“Limbe to Lagos: an excellent collection of the mind of Africa.” ~Kwame Osei-Poku

paperback: directly from The Mantle
ebook: Kindle | Kobo

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Help support indie books and publishers!

“The Mantle publishes nonfiction and literary fiction by emerging writers from around the world, with a focus on authors from Africa.”

themantle_redlogo-1When we had a chance to speak to publisher Shaun Randol at The Mantle on the publication of Limbe to Lagos mid-last year, the pandemic had hit hard with their books going out into the “COVOID”.

We asked how our book communities might be able to help and…

“Read and review our books! Interview our authors! The more word gets out there about these great writers and their books, the better. With bookstores closed book clerks can’t recommend (or hand-sell) our books to curious customers, so we need the online community to help spread the word. Anyone who wants to review our books is welcome to a free ebook copy (or if you’re in the U.S., a paperback) and our infinite gratitude. And if you want to interview a writer, let us know and we’ll try to set it up.”

We look forward to hearing from anyone who’d like to review any books or interview any of The Mantle’s authors and become an AiW Guest writer. Don’t hesitate to contact us and/or submit – details at the link. All are welcome, as are any ideas big or small. 

See the catalogue at https://www.themantle.com/
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Categories: AiW Q&A, Words on the Times, Writers

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