Credit: Alba Sumprim
Alba Kunadu Sumprim is a shoot-from-the-hip, take-no-nonsense writer, intrepid traveller, giraffe fancier, movie lover and would be assassin, born in London . . . .corrupted in Accra.
By day, writer, editor, columnist and cartoonist. By night . . .
Having been battered into submission, Alba insists on staying in Accra, where she’s regularly accused of being Senegalese, Malian, Ivorian, Liberian or Zimbabwean, in fact, any other nationality but Ghanaian. She now happily accepts whatever nationality Ghanaians want to impose on her.
Geosi Reads: When did your love for writing began?
Alba K. Sumprim: From a young age, though when it happened I wasn’t aware. I was a strange kid who didn’t fit into the ideal of what I was expected to be. I fell in love with cinema, and dance, and opera and classical music at a young age, something my parents didn’t understand or encourage. They wanted me to do well at school and get a good job, something most parents want for their children. I started writing stories and keeping a diary just to get ideas, I didn’t think I could discuss with others, out of my head and onto paper. In boxes stored in London, I have at least all my thoughts from ages 14 to 20 written in notebooks. I’ve been writing since . . .
Geosi Reads: Your book, ‘The Imported Ghanaian’ first appeared as articles in the Daily Dispatch. Tell us about how it generated into a book?
Alba K. Sumprim: After my work started appearing in the newspaper, I started a blog dealing with the same themes and a few people suggested that I write a small book. The idea to step up to a book came from the then Nigerian High Commissioner in Ghana, who was a huge fan of my column. He called the newspaper and left his number for me to call him. During our conversation he laughingly mentioned that he was fed up of the newspapers piling up in his room and wished I would put them in a book so he could have all his favourite stories together in one place. Obviously, a book wouldn’t take up as much space as a stack of newspapers.
Geosi Reads: So did you ever get this Nigerian High Commissioner a copy of the book? If yes, what was his response?
Alba K. Sumprim: Unfortunately, he had left Ghana by the time the book had come out, but someone from the Embassy got copy to take to him.
Geosi Reads: You were born in London before moving to Ghana. Are you the ‘Imported Ghanaian’?
Alba K. Sumprim: I most definitely am but now I’m probably the ‘Adapted Ghanaian,’ lol
Geosi Reads: Are you happy with your ‘new’ adaptation?
Alba K. Sumprim: Yes, because I’ve adapted based on my own rules understanding. I can only be responsible for my own behavior so I haven’t bought into the ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ syndrome. Example, I will arrive on time, always, but with a book to while away time, if the person hasn’t arrived within a time frame, I leave and forget it. Previously, I would have taken them to task. I just choose my battles and look for the beautiful nonsense or ignore it. I can’t change anything but I can change the way I react to it, that’s my adaptation.
Geosi Reads: Your book is a combination of graphics and texts. What did you intend to achieve with this?
Alba K. Sumprim: I think Ghanaians have a great sense of humour and are some of the funniest people in the world, but I don’t think we’re very good at laughing at or making fun of ourselves as Ghanaians. When I wrote the first book, there was a part of me that worried that people would be upset at what I wrote and as you know, comedy is a great way of talking about serious issues and getting to the heart of thing without upsetting people. It also makes what you’re saying more palatable when people are laughing or find some humour in what is being said. I also felt the cartoons would be unique and a good selling point, which proved to be true. After mastering cartooning (which seemed to take forever) I want to, one day, produce a graphic novel.
Geosi Reads: How much of your real life experiences go into your books?
Alba K. Sumprim: About 99.999999999999999%, and that is why so many people identify with the books because they are the daily things that happen, they’ve also had those experience too. My book just gives them another perspective to the situation, in most cases it reaffirms it.
Geosi Reads: How long did it take you to complete the Imported Ghanaian?
Alba K. Sumprim: Because of having to learn how to cartoon, it took about three years. I had all the stories already written but I had to select those that would fit into the picture I wanted to create. A bit like picking the right pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to make a coherent picture. I then had to build up the courage to make it public and put it all in one space, I was worried about how Ghanaians would take it because I think we have a very high opinion of ourselves but we’re also pretty thin skinned about what we perceive as critique.
Geosi Reads: Take us through the publication process? Was it difficult getting published?
Alba K. Sumprim: I think there are more publishing opportunities now than when I wanted to publish. Because of the nature of my book, text and graphics, I was constantly being told that it didn’t fit a mould or genre, so eventually, I self published. Because I took all the risks it wasn’t difficult getting published. I did a lot of research online, I wrote to many printing companies and before taking the final leap, I uploaded my manuscript to lulu.com and bought a copy to see what it really looked like. Once I was happy with the result I printed my books. Voila, The Imported Ghanaian was brought to life.
Geosi Reads: Was it not a painful and demanding route you took to self-publish?
Alba K. Sumprim: Not really! It was probably the easiest. The most difficult part is having to bear all the costs and take complete responsibility for the success or failure of the book, but I don’t think self-publishing here in Ghana is a painful and demanding route, it is literally, the only route available to most of us who want to see our work in print. There aren’t that many publishing opportunities here.
Geosi Reads: A Place of Beautiful Nonsense is yet another book to your name. I am curious to know how you arrived at the title?
Alba K. Sumprim: There’s a lot of nonsense in Ghana, but there is beauty in all of it. Oh, did I just say that? Okay, a lot of it. Sometimes you have to dig deep to find it, especially, when you’ve had situations where you’ve wanted to commit a heinous crime with a blunt object. Coming back home can be frustrating and if you don’t look for the beauty you will rush to the nearest travel agent and jet out of here like a bat with the devil on its tail. Ghana is the place of beautiful nonsense and there is lots to smile and laugh about, you just need to look for it.
Geosi Reads: Well explained! But is it always the case that there is beauty in nonsense? Is nonsense sometimes not totally nonsense?
Alba K. Sumprim: Of course there is gold, even in the biggest pile of shit. Total nonsense tends to have the most beauty in it but you have to dig hard and have a warped sense of humour to enjoy it. Outside my bedroom window one early morning, a mechanic was working on my neighbour’s car. He revved the engine for over ten minutes and my room was filled with fumes. I was coughing. I went out and told him the impact of his revving the engine. He looked at me puzzled, and then, I kid you not, he bent towards the exhaust pipe and scooped up some fumes with cupped hands and sniffed, “Ei, Madam, I can’t smell anything o!” What do you do with a person like that? It was incredible that he couldn’t smell it. I rolled around with laughter and started my day. Another word for beauty could also be sillyness. You know, when something is so ludicrous the only thing left to do is laugh because it has no explanation.
Geosi Reads: In your own view, what is the best time to write?
Alba K. Sumprim: The ‘witching hour’, of course. That time between 1am and 4am. The gates to the spirit world are at their widest and it’s a time when creativity is at its most potent, the air is different, the quality of sound is different, its . . . for me, the best time to work.
Geosi Reads: You worked on a number of film projects in Cuba and London before moving to Ghana. Is it profitable to earn a living solely from writing in Ghana?
Alba K. Sumprim: Hell no! Unless your business is text books. I would stick my neck out and say all those of us who are writing in Ghana have other jobs that pay the bills. I do.
Geosi Reads: One of the radio programs I love so much on BBC is ‘Story, Story, Voices from the Market’, where you served on the writing and editing team. How is the process of translating texts into voices? Do you achieve the same effects from the translation?
Alba K. Sumprim: Story Story is a beautiful project and I had the honour of working as a writer and editor for over six years. Radio is pretty challenging because you need to use few words to create visuals in people’s minds and tell complex stories within a short time frame. The translating process involves not just writers and editor, but producers, directors and of course, the actors, who give life to our words and create the personalities listeners have come to love. I think with Story Story we achieved that simply because of the quality of all involved, it’s a product of great teamwork and long hard meticulous hours. It’s a project that is very much loved by those involved with it.
Geosi Reads: How has your book been received by Ghanaians?
Alba K. Sumprim: I’m glad to say I’ve only received one bad review, I think he was terribly unfair but one bad review is okay. Also, if you don’t get at least one bad review then something must be wrong. Practically everything else has been really positive, from Ghanaians and foreigners. My books have reached as far as Guadelope, Jamaica, the US, Poland, and places I never conceived the book would arrive at. Interestingly, responses I’ve received from countries where the population is predominantly African ancestry, often go along the lines of ‘Everything you talk about happens here too.’ It’s not just a Ghana thing, it’s a global thing, it’s just that I’m talking about where I live. More foreigners buy my books but I also have a good fan base amongst teens, which I think is wonderful. The art of reading is not defunct. Yet!