Q&A – Ayo Oyeku Words on the Times

AiW note: Today we bring you an inspiring Words on the Times – a Q&A series initiated to connect up our experiences of life and work as the pandemic hit – with writer and publisher Ayo Oyeku.

Ayo Oyeku

Ayo Oyeku is a writer of prose, poetry and screenplay. He made an early mark in 2004, when his first children’s book, First among Equals, was selected by the World Bank for distribution across schools and libraries in Nigeria. In 2015, his young-adult novel, Tears of the Lonely, won the Ezenwa Ohaeto Prize for Fiction, from the Society of Young Nigerian Writers. In 2016, his poem, ‘Reeds on the Rivers’, was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and he has been shortlisted twice for the Golden Baobab Prize, in 2016 and 2018 respectively. In 2019, he won the ANA prize for Children’s literature for his book, Mafoya and the Finish Line. He recently published his eighth children’s book, Queen Moremi Makes a Promise.

Ayo is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI, Nigeria chapter). Aside from writing, he loves traveling and telling stories. He is the founder of the publishing  firm, Eleventh House.

In our Q&A, Ayo discusses being a writer and publisher, reinventing his business during the pandemic, and learning to appreciate the simple things. Ayo has also included a “Things that matter” reading list – of the books that continue to inspire him and his work…

Could you tell us a bit about the work that you do and the ways that the pandemic has affected your plans for it?

I made the decision quite early in life to be a writer. I signed my first book publishing contract at the age of seventeen, and two years after, my first children’s books were published. Two books, in 2004. That early experience gave me the needed surge, and two decades after, I have achieved some worthy milestones. I am a creative writer of prose, poetry, and screenplays, but focused on children’s fiction. Presently, I have published eight children’s books and a young-adult novel.

Aside from this, I also serve as the founder of Eleventh House, a publishing firm focused on discovering and launching gifted minds who have unique ways of expressing their creative skills. The pandemic slowed down our publishing/production process. The experience was like a sudden downpour that gave no signs of stopping. We lost clients and the company suffered a huge loss. 

In what ways are you working now that you weren’t before, or how are things on the ground where you are now?

We had to reinvent our business process to gain the confidence of clients who had to communicate and do business with us remotely. The same model was applied to the print-publishing process of our work, in relation to client companies who assisted in assuring quality production. This is 2022, things are returning to normal but we’ve been able to build a partly-remote working model that saves time, saves money and also gives us an excellent output.

What have you found most supportive and/or heart lifting in these times?

The pandemic period taught me how to appreciate the simple things of life, make do with the little I have, and enjoy my own company. That inward reflection made me improve on my areas of strength and weaknesses. Me becoming my own best friend gave me a modicum of hope.

How can our blog communities best support you now?

The spotlight. The continuous effort of blog communities publicizing and informing people about the work I do is an excellent nod in the right direction. This would help promote my form of art – children’s fiction, and how my publishing house is shifting the narrative through the books we publish. This would give birth to collaborations, bigger opportunities, and immensities.

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Things – the books – that made me…

The life changing one…

West African Verse by Donatus I. Nwoga.

The one that made you read everything else they’d ever written…

Weep Not, Child by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

The childhood one…

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

The one you wished you’d written…

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.

The one you recommend to others most often…

You Must Set Forth at Dawn by Wole Soyinka.

The one you’ve engaged with / gone back to the most times…

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin.

The most underrated one…

Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.

The one on your bedside table…

Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth by Wole Soyinka.

Any other one we missed that should be with you on your list?

Drawn Together by Minh Le.

Eleventh House was established in 2018, as a creative publishing company for books that do not fit into a box. Our range of books cuts across all genres, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s literature, play, biographies and scholarly/academic. We currently offer self-publishing services with the goal of helping our authors soar beyond the shores of Africa. Some of our titles are currently listed on the Frankfurt Rights platform for book licensing and distribution. Find out more at https://eleventhhousepublishing.com/

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