With the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017 winners announcement coming up, Karibee Books is excited to speak with Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀, one of the shortlisted authors for our second edition of Konversations with Karibee. Ayọ̀bámi’s debut novel Stay with me is such a beautiful book, it was simply impossible to put down. It is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.
Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀’s stories have appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, and one was highly commended in the 2009 Commonwealth short story competition. She holds BA and MA degrees in Literature in English from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife and has worked as an editor for Saraba magazine since 2009. She also has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia where she was awarded an international bursary for creative writing. Grab a cup of tea and read on to discover the author’s thoughts on her amazing debut.
Karibee Books: You’ve recently been shortlisted for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction award, a well deserved honour. What would it mean to you if you were to win it?
Adébáyọ̀: It’s indeed a great honour to have been shortlisted for the prize. I wasn’t expecting it and it has been such a wonderful boost in many ways. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to win so I’ll just say a bit about what being on the shortlist means to me. Many novels that I’ve absolutely loved, from Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus to Mantel’s Wolf Hall have been on the shortlist. To see Stay with Me shortlisted like they were is delightful and gratifying beyond words. I’m reading my way through this year’s shortlist and really, Stay with Me is in such brilliant company.
Karibee Books: Stay with me explores the impact of infertility on a family. How does the pressure on a married woman to get pregnant in Nigeria compare with the social pressures to get married?
Adébáyọ̀: I think people are pressured into getting married and having children for similar reasons. As a society, we place a lot of value on family, this is not bad in itself but it becomes insidious when we make people feel they are deficient because they don’t have children or are unmarried. I know of a guy whose father refused to speak to him until he introduced his bride to be to the family. We all know stories of marriages that break down because the couple can’t conceive and the pressure from their families just becomes unbearable. Many people end up in miserable situations because they cave in to these pressures and some end up taking really desperate steps like Yejide and Akin do in the in the novel.
Karibee Books: Stay with me is set in Ilesa and Ife, places in south-west Nigeria where you grew up. Do you put yourself in your books or characters in some way?
Adébáyọ̀: When it comes to plot and character, I usually don’t do so deliberately but because these stories are a product of my psyche, aspects of my life and personality might still make it into the text. However, with setting, I wanted to write about Ilesa because apart from T.M Aluko’s novels, I hadn’t read any novel set anywhere in Ijeshaland. I grew up in Ilesa and attended the primary school Yejide’s children go to, I returned there in my mid-twenties and worked there for three years. So, it’s a place I’ve come to know and love for many reasons. I modelled the estate that Yejide and Akin lived in at the beginning of the novel after the estate my family lived in when I was younger but I chose not to mention its name because it felt unnecessary.
Karibee Books: One of the sub plots in the book details the harrowing experiences of life with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD). Do you think there is enough awareness regarding SCD and the tough decisions that often need to be made regarding it?
Adébáyọ̀: I don’t think so. Some researchers estimate that one in four Nigerians carry the sickle cell trait and a hundred and fifty thousand Nigerian children are born with sickle cell disease every year. WHO puts the disease’s prevalence in Nigeria somewhere between 20 and 30%, that’s a substantial part of our population. Yet, the Nigerian government hasn’t instituted a sustained public enlightenment program to encourage young people to get tested before making a decision about marriage and childbearing. As with many other things, a lot of what is being done in terms of public enlightenment is spearheaded by individuals and non-governmental organisations. I understand that some churches are asking intending couples to do a genotype test before the wedding is conducted, I think that’s a good move. I think the federal government, through the ministry of health has a wider reach than any of the independent initiatives that exist and will definitely have more impact.
Karibee Books: You’ve mentioned that you began writing Stay with me in 2010 while working in a bank. The book finally got published in 2017, seven years later. What kept you going through the years? Do you have any tips for other writers on the road to getting published?
Adébáyọ̀: I cared about the novel and was convinced that Yejide and Akin’s story needed to be told. The fact that I loved these characters and became emotionally invested in them as time went on meant that I just couldn’t give up on the novel. So, I’d say write about people or issues you really care about, commitment is important and caring deeply about your subject and characters can make it easier to commit to a project. It’s also important to know that rejections and disappointments are a part of the journey, don’t let them stop you.
Karibee Books: If you were to list your three all-time favourite books; the ones you wouldn’t mind having with you while marooned on an island, what would they be?
Adébáyọ̀: The list keeps changing but right now I’d say, Beloved by Toni Morrison, Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka and the book of Psalms.
Karibee Books: What is the main thing you want readers to take away from your book?
Adébáyọ̀: A sense of hope, I would like readers to go away feeling hopeful about life.
Karibee Books: Finally, what’s next for Ayòbámi Adébáyò?
Adébáyọ̀: Right now, dinner. In the not too distant future, another novel.
~ Read It Now ~
“Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother in-law wants, and she has tried everything – arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, dances with prophets, appeals to God. But when her in-laws insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. This unforgettable novel set in Nigeria gives voice to both husband and wife as they tell the story of their marriage—and the forces that threaten to tear it apart. It is a tale about our desperate attempts to save ourselves and those we love from heartbreak.”
Stay with Me is out now in the United Kingdom and Nigeria. It’s forthcoming from Alfred A. Knopf (August 2017. USA) and Kwani Trust(Kenya). Translations into German, Swedish, Italian, Polish , Turkish and Hebrew are forthcoming from Piper Verlag, Pirat Förlaget, La Nave di Teseo, Marginesy, Hep Kitap and Achuzat Bayit respectively.
Take a trip to the official site to purchase yours today!