2019 Writivism Short Story Prize ~ Shortlisted Writer: A Dialogue With Frances Ogamba
Frances Ogamba’s stories appear in Afridiaspora and Writivism 2016 Short Story Prize Anthology, Dwartonline and Ynaija websites, and on Enkare review. She is a workshop alumnus of Writivism 2016, Ake fiction 2016, and Winter Tangerine 2016. She is shortlisted for Writivism Short Story Prize and the Koffi Addo Award. She lives in Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
BY KEAROMA MOSATA
This conversation took place between Botswana and the Nigeria via email.
Kearoma: I am excited to have this conversation with you. First and foremost, congratulations on being shortlisted for both the Writivism Short Story Prize and the Koffi Addo Prize. How are you feeling and what does this mean for you as a writer?
Frances: Thank you, Kearoma. Shortlists are often difficult to get on, and they come with a rewarding feeling. What’s more amazing is that it makes my story easily noticed and read by quite a number of people. I feel encouraged above all.
Kearoma: Yes, this is very true. It exposes your writing to a wider audience. Ghana Boy such an enthralling story, more so that it explores police brutality, what was your thought process when you were writing it?
Frances: I was writing as a child and I zoomed in the events of my childhood while at it. I grew up in a small town where petty robbers disappeared often without trace. The whole town was thankful most of the time and, as a child, I shared in their glee. Based on the experiences of people around me, I opted to explore how the families of these victims must have felt, how these criminals also had loved ones. What I did was take on criminality from a rare point where some people may prefer to ignore. As Clarie Gor says in her review of Ghana Boy: ‘Ghana Boy was also a son, a brother and a victim of police brutality.’
“Based on the experiences of people around me, I opted to explore how the families of these victims must have felt, how these criminals also had loved ones. What I did was take on criminality from a rare point where some people may prefer to ignore.“
Kearoma: Oh that is true. We always ignore that criminals also come from families and they have loved ones.
I also loved how you showed a mother’s love, Ghana Boy’s mother held on to her son as a young boy, and completely ignored the things he was up to. That is how most mothers are.
What did you want readers to leave with after reading this story?
Frances: You are right. Rarely do mothers call out their children for who they really are. A mother’s heart is said to be filled with lots of space for love and endurance. Yet, if we are not careful, we will become the most enablers of our children’s ruin. There have been stories of convicted robbers who blamed their mothers for how they turned out. While we love our children, we must keep this in perspective and be sure to recognize the boundary where love exceeds its demand and brews trouble. Perhaps if Ghana Boy’s mother were stricter, things wouldn’t get that bad for him.
Kearoma: Yes, a mother’s love is impenetrable. But sometimes, this leads to the kids turning out like Ghana Boy, which is not to say we blame the mother.
What other social justice themes do you hope to explore in future?
Frances: There’s a lot currently going on especially in Nigeria, and daily police crimes are committed in many areas. Until a path to change is unearthed, we will keep writing and tweeting about these things. I cannot exactly tell what I am going to write about next especially because often the stories pick me out first.
Kearoma: The power of the pen is mighty. Like Teju Cole once said, “writing as writing, writing as rioting, writing as righting”.
What do you think makes a great story?
Frances: There are many rules and guides on how to create a great story. But I think that the decision of whether a story is great or not lies predominantly with the reader. What I do as a writer is to set free the storm raging in my head, and then I pare down until I extract what I think is needed. Then the reader takes this story and owns it, giving it meanings and interpretations that are entirely new to the original idea I had. As a reader, I know a great story when on the pages I feel every emotion the writer intentionally dished out, and much more that she/he didn’t plan to.
Kearoma: That is very insightful. How the writer puts out the story will be different from how the reader interprets it.
Lastly, what are you currently working on? Do you have any advice for emerging writers?
Frances: There’s a collection of stories and a book plot in my head. They are just up there in the clouds and I will have to pull them down soon. I would tell the emerging writers to read when they can, and to never disconnect with their writing pads. When you create too much distance from the keyboard, it often takes even double effort to get back to the way things were.
Kearoma: That is exciting to hear, we cannot wait for the plots in your head to reach us in the form of a book. No pressure. Thank you so much for your time, Frances, I wish you all the best.
Kearoma Mido Mosata is a Motswana writer and blogger. She was shortlisted for the inaugural BSHD Tourism Fiction Award in 2016. Her work appears in print in 36 Kisses and Other Short Stories & Poems and as part of It’s The Devil You Know- Collection of Works on Gender Based Violence. More of her works are online on Brittle Paper, Kalahari Review and Arts & Africa. Kearoma writes about a lot of things but lately, her writing has been inspired by the idea of displacement, the self and home. Her first Non-fictional short story “This Is How We Grieve” is part of the recently published 3rd Journal of The Single Story Foundation.