Lola Shoneyin: I Write to Stimulate Discussions on Social Issues
Nigerian Poet and Author Discusses Her Debut Novel The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives at Sharjah World Book Capital 2019 #BookTalks session
Sharjah, January 19, 2019:Celebrated Nigerian novelist and poet, Lola Shoneyin, took over the #BookTalks at Al Rawi Café in Sharjah to discuss her multiple award-winning debut novel, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, in which she explores the effects of polygamy on Nigerian women who are caught up in it. The event was part of the ongoing yearlong Sharjah World Book Capital (SWBC) 2019 celebrations.
At a lively discussion moderated by Wael Al Sayegh, Emirati poet and CEO coach, the author discussed why she chose to move from writing poetry to prose and the reason she chose the subject for her first novel. Shoneyin began by thanking SWBC for giving her the opportunity to interact with her readers in Sharjah. “This is my first time in Sharjah, and I am very excited to be here,” she said.
“When people ask me the reason for the transition from poetry to prose, I always say that I started writing prose first before I began writing poetry,” said the Nigerian author. “I studied in a boarding school in Edinburgh, where every weekend we were made to write letters to our parents. These were thoroughly scrutinised before being sent off so that any criticism of the school could be censored! This made me think of creative ways to complain about the school to my parents by making up strange and elaborate stories.”
“So, storytelling was an intrinsic skill that faded as I grew up and went to university, where I started writing poetry as a tool to destress. I ended up publishing three books of poetry, before I started writing prose again,” Shoneyin explained.
Interestingly, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is not Shoneyin’s first work of prose. She wrote two prior to it, which are yet to find publishers.
Shoneyin embarked on her third novel project because the subject compelled her to write it down. “I decided that if I were to write another book, it would be about Nigeria’s issues and challenges,” she said. “Though polygamy is a major issue in Nigeria, it is in fact a universal issue. Wherever a woman’s status, in fact, her very being depends on her ability to marry and produce offspring, you will find the same issue plaguing society.”
According to Shoneyin, the main reason that polygamy is rampant in Nigeria is that women are still defined by their marital status. Shoneyin explains this happens because people accept it as a part of their religion or culture.
Following the discussion, Shoneyin signed copies of her books for attendees. This was followed by a performance by Maimouna Jallow, a Nairobi-based storyteller and director of Positively African, an organisation that brings together a pan-African network of activists, artists and academicians working at the intersection of art and social justice. Her standout one-woman performance based on The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives accompanied by music mesmerised the audience, giving them a glimpse into the lives of the characters in the novel.
The book will soon be available in Arabic.
Organised by Al Rawi Bookstore & Café in collaboration with the Sharjah World Book Capital 2019 Office (SWBC Office), #BookTalks events are monthly gatherings that aim to promote a culture of reading among community members and help them develop a deeper literary understanding and appreciation through their interactions with prominent Arab and international authors who speak at these events.