Adura Ojo is an author, poet, blogger and a mother of two. She is the author of Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs, her debut poetry collection. She loves observing the world around her and teasing the voices within. In previous lives she was a graduate of English, Law and Social Work – not all at the same time. She also enjoyed work – as a lecturer, trainer and mental health practitioner. Her work has been published in Sentinel Champions, Sentinel Nigeria, The Poetic Pinup Revue, and a number of websites. She lives in the UK where she is currently working on her debut novel and a second poetry collection.
Geosi Gyasi: You’ve been blogging for some time now? What circumstance(s) led you to become a blogger?
Adura Ojo: I’ve been blogging for six years. I used to visit the Nigerian Village Square, a well- known Nigerian online forum. I read blogs and became fascinated with them.
Geosi Gyasi: How much of the blogging experience do you bring to your writing?
Adura Ojo: I blog spontaneously. Most of my poems are written the same way in less than thirty minutes. Though editing can take longer.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you think blogging has a place in modern world? And what mostly fascinates you about blogging?
Adura Ojo: We can’t always say all we want to say in 140 characters and any video on that popular website loses viewers quickly if it’s more than five minutes long. Blogging has a place. It would become more commercialised. That’s already happening. Almost anyone can just start a blog. I like that.
Geosi Gyasi: You blog from two places – thus – Life is a Woman and Naijalines. Could you tell me a bit about the two blogs?
Adura Ojo: ‘Naijalines’ is my personal blog where I write about anything that takes my fancy. ‘Life is a Woman’ (taken from the title of my book) is my writing blog. I share poetry and prose pieces and take part in writing challenges.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you mind sharing about motherhood and writing?
Adura Ojo: Motherhood is a privilege as well as a challenge. I enjoy both aspects. As a writer you need lots of alone time…I do. As a mother you cannot have lots of alone time…my eight year old daughter says so. When my son was growing up, (he’s in his early twenties now) I was a full time practising mental health professional. It seemed more straightforward. I had more energy then.
Geosi Gyasi: You are a graduate of English, Law and Social work? I am wondering if you could share that bit on your study of Law? Have you abandoned it totally?
Adura Ojo: I read Law in the UK and graduated with honours. Right from my first year, I knew there was a possibility I would not want to go to law school. There were a few reasons for my decision. I don’t regret it. I wouldn’t say I’ve abandoned it; at least I haven’t abandoned the purpose for the law degree. I am an advocate of social causes rather than the law. That’s why I did a Masters in Social Work. My main interests are women and mental health. I get involved in selected projects that deal with these issues. These two issues also feature prominently in my poetry.
Geosi Gyasi: You were born in London and brought up in Nigeria? What memories do you have about your birth in London and your upbringing in Nigeria?
Adura Ojo: I can’t recall much about my early years in London. I was three when we moved to Nigeria. I can recall smells though. I have almost an allergic reaction to celery and suspect it’s to do with a childhood incident in the UK, possibly outside of my home. I have a lot of memories growing up in Nigeria. The first poem: “Happy Lizards” in ‘Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs’ is a reflection on those childhood years in Nigeria.
Geosi Gyasi: Having lived in the United Kingdom since your early twenties, do you feel more British than Nigerian?
Adura Ojo: I am both British and Nigerian. A Nigerian would describe me as ‘Britico’ and a British person would describe me as Nigerian. ‘The immigrant experience’ which I allude to in my book further complicates matters. I was born British. Socio-politically in the UK, I’m still seen as an ‘immigrant’ on British soil. Being Nigerian is central to my identity as much as the UK is my home.
Geosi Gyasi: What flaws, in your opinion, does the British society have over the Nigerian or vice-versa?
Adura Ojo: No culture is perfect. Cultures are complex. One culture does not have an upper hand over the other as far as these two are concerned. They are just different.
Geosi Gyasi: How often do you return to Nigeria?
Adura Ojo: I was in Nigeria twice last year. I hope to be there later this year.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you been following the literary landscape in Nigeria?
Adura Ojo: I have to a certain extent. It’s vibrant at the moment with many young writers coming up. We’ll see how it develops.
Geosi Gyasi: Which writers among your contemporaries do you most admire?
Adura Ojo: Jude Dibia. I wouldn’t describe him as ‘my contemporary.’ He has three novels to his credit. Dibia has that ability to get into the mind of his characters and do it in a subtle, yet effective way. For poetry, I love Somali poet Warsan Shire’s work. Her work is hauntingly beautiful.
Geosi Gyasi: At what point in life did you stumble on the art of poetry?
Adura Ojo: I studied English at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria. We read a lot of English and African poets: Keats, Donne, Okigbo, Clark, Soyinka, Okot p’Bitek, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Pope, Milton and Shelley among others. My first poem was to my then boyfriend around this time. I was actually 17 though we first met when I was 16. The poem I wrote expressed thoughts I did not feel safe expressing anywhere else. Poetry seems a medium I’ve adopted for expressing thoughts I do not feel able to express elsewhere. I did not write another poem until 2009. Thinking of it now, that was when I was ready and it all started to come out.
Geosi Gyasi: Your debut poetry collection, “Life is a Woman Breaking Eggs?” was recently published. What struck me about the book was the cover. Who designed the book cover? Did you have a hand in influencing the cover design?
Adura Ojo: Writer, Kiru Taye designed the cover. She did a fantastic job. I was clear in my own mind as to what I wanted. Describing it to someone else was not easy. I suck at sketches. After Kiru did a couple of draft images, I summed up the image in my mind as ‘a woman in a flowing robe, with attitude.’ Barely 24 hours later, Kiru sent this cover. It was as if she took a picture of the image in my mind’s eye.
Geosi Gyasi: Beyond the book cover are a number of poems that celebrate feminism? Are you often biased towards women?
Adura Ojo: Geosi, I don’t know what you mean by ‘biased towards women.’ I am a woman who is proud of my womanhood. I love to celebrate that with women and men alike. There are three sections in the book. The first two sections look at the human condition as a general landscape. The last section is perhaps the one that best meets your description, ‘celebrating feminism’ and womanhood. Besides that, there are a host of poems that look at different spheres of the human experience: identity, race, the diasporan experience, poverty, terrorism and poor leadership. Poems such as: “The Museum”, “Say My Name”, “Eggs Crack Easy”, “Nagging Area”, “This Land”, “French” and “Zebra Crossing” deal with some of these issues.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you give us a glimpse of what book you intend to write next? Would it be another poetry collection or fiction or non-fiction?
Adura Ojo: I have a novel that is 75% finished. It is about a young man and an older woman. I’m also working on my second poetry collection which promises to be of lighter subject matter than the first. I would like to think that the novel would be next one out. I could be wrong.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you comment on these lines from your poem, “A Woman Knows Her Place”: A woman knows her place/and how to get there.
Adura Ojo: I am surprised that you homed in on those lines. I was not sure that readers would get it. There were prevalent attitudes towards women and also emotional blackmail that one was exposed to, growing up within a patriarchal culture in Nigeria. It was not part of the experience in my own family but it was very much a part of the society I grew up in. The saying: “A woman must know her place”, we often think we’ve come a long way from that sort of thinking but it is still evident in people’s attitudes. My own approach is to twist that statement on its head. Yes, a woman knows her place. Not only does she know her place, she most certainly knows how to get there. It is empowering for women to define where that ‘place’ is.
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