Maryam Awaisu: “I wrote my first novel when I was 11 years old”

Thematically, your novels tend to be plotted around cultural specifics; you pick a critical issue then weave stories around it. In Burning Bright, we have ‘a story of a family struggling…in the face of severe emotional challenges…’ through sickle cell anemia challenges. Now in The Thing About Compromise, we have a societal story weaved around another significant aspect of life. Why do you prefer this pattern or approach?

I write about the things that keep me up at night, and usually these are societal issues I feel too small to impact. Writing is what I do best, so I create stories that would lead to some positive change, hopefully.

Your new novel comes with the major character dissipating palpable emotions as she navigates through oceans of challenges. Is it just fictional or it is the actual state of things in the environment you set the novel on?

It’s very much what real girls go through. They mostly have to hide these emotions because society has generic responses to their grievances. I want every reader to feel those emotions.

We now know about the pet rocks and dancing for leisure, what are the other things you are really good at that few people know about?

I’m kind of good at clowning; bringing laughter to random situations. I think I’m a decent actor and plan to venture into acting at some point. I’d like to think I’m a great magnet for trouble too.

Without giving out too much about your new novel,The Thing About Compromise, do we have more Laylas in the Northern Nigerian society today and what does the future hold for them?

Yes. Many many more, who probably have it worse in so many ways. The future holds a lot of restriction, if allowed. The things we have power and control over, we must rebel against. The future just might be brighter for rebellious girls.

Going by the grip you have on your plots (in both novels) and if of course you allow us to be a little pedestrian, is your love for storytelling and writing traceable?

I’ve loved consuming stories since I was barely able to read. I think it was only a matter of time before I wanted to create and tell mine. I wrote my first novel when I was 11 years old. 

What is the place of ‘hope’ in structuring your storyline, especially as it affects your major character?

Hope is very important and what I feel keeps us sane. Once we lose all hope, then we have nothing to lose. That will always be dangerous.

According to Virginia Woolf in her celebrated essay, A Room of One’s Own, “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Do you believe in this? If yes, how has it shaped your career as a writer? If no, why?

No, I don’t. There are so many variables to being a successful writer. I write because I love to, and I just hope for the best going forward. I have neither of the two, by the way.

Maryam Awaisu

Ms. Joana’s Rules is your debut children’s book. What is it like to share the creative process of full-fledged fiction with the fragility of children’s fiction?

More difficult than I imagined! Breaking it down to something children will understand was a task for me. I had so much to share but softening it wasn’t easy. I hope it’s soft enough. 

Ours is a seemingly shy or probably a pretentious culture, how do you think the reception would be for Ms. Joana’s Rules with the bold issues of body rules and body parts you address in the book?

I expect some pushback. But if we really care about our children, we will give it a chance. My main target are parents, whose responsibility it is to empower their children to detect and report sexual abuse. Parents say they don’t know how to begin talking to their children about their bodies because no one spoke to them about that. Well, I’ve done a lot of the work, after consulting with psychologists and victims of child abuse, and looking at how to improve on talking about these things. We don’t have any excuse.

In 2019 Nigeria, should we have the expectations that creative writing will aid social activism in our quest for justice, fairness and equity?

Yes. There’s this powerful thing books do: they make us ponder the realities of the characters. I’m certain some good and a lot of awakening will come of my work.

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