19 January 2018

Kenya: By the Book - Dami Ajayi

interview

Dami Ajayi is a Nigerian poet, music critic and medical doctor based in Lagos. He is also the co-founder of Saraba magazine. Ajayi has written two collections of poetry, ClinicalBlues and A Woman's Body is a Country. He spoke to Nation.co.ke about his literary favourites.

What three new books by West Africans have excited you the most this year?

An Abundance of Scorpionsby Hadiza El Rufai, A Moonless, Starless Sky by Alexis Okeowo and Dis Fela Sef! by Benson Idonije.

Which two books do you hold so dear that they can't possibly be lent out?

A Widow for One Yearby John Irving and She Died Yesterday by Hansen Ayoola

What were your favourite childhood books? Why?

Without a Silver Spoonby Eddie Iroh, The Boy Slave by Kolapo Onadipe and Enid Blyton's Secret Seven and Famous Five novella series. They transported me out of my immediate childhood realities.

If you were to dine with three writers dead or alive, who would they be and why?

John Irving, my favourite novelist of all time. We need to talk about the range and prescient nature of his prose. There is also Cyprian Ekwensi, the pharmacist turned prolific novelist, and we'll talk about the contagious nature of cities.

Lastly, there is, of course TS Eliot with whom I'd like to speak to about that precocious genius that produced The Love Song of Alfred J Prufrock.

What is the last book that made you laugh?

The Ghost of Sani Abacha. Chuma Nwokolo is a master of humour.

What books are on your reading list for the next couple of months?

What It Means When a Man Falls From the SkybyLeslie Arimah

The Good Immigrantedited by Nikesh Shukla

Are You Not a Nigerian? by Bayo Olupohunda

Niyi Osundare: A Literary Biographyby Sule E. Egya

Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirrorby John Ashbery

What are your favourite genres to read and which is your least favourite genre?

For me, the division of literature into genres is for the ease of marketing. I love all genres equally.

What's the most important writing lesson you have learnt as editor of Saraba journal?

First drafts are shit.

Which African books would you term as classics and why?

The word classic is a curious one. It is often used to describe a book that remains relevant to the human experience. It is also used to describe some unreadable books that canon makers insist must be on your reading list. I am generally suspicious of these kinds of lists because there is no such thing as the all-inclusive perfect list.

Very few literary journals on the continent are as old as Saraba. What do you guys do differently and how come you have survived for over a decade?

We keep the dream alive by selling it often to younger dreamers like ourselves. Some element of luck here, the generosity of strangers there, the supreme kindness of friends--this is our winning formula.

If you were sent off to Robben Island for a year, which three books would you take with you?

The Holy Bible

A novel by John Irving

Wole Soyinka's The Man Died

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