Gifted poet and writer Olajumoke Verissimo doesn’t need much introduction. Her first book I Am Memory successfully took on a big challenge very few attempt-History; the painful part of Nigeria’s history. Jumoke is an all round literary head; having studied English literature at the university and furthering her academics in African studies; the artist has worked extensively with some leading Newspaper and media houses in Nigeria as an Editor and Copywriter.
A recipient of more than a few awards in her career, Verissimo has been hailed as one of those who will change the face of Nigeria’s literature; and as fans of her work, we see it already happening.
AFRIKAJUMP asked her some questions about life; work and aspirations.
As we say in Brazil, Vamoonezza! It means; let’s go!
AFRIKAJUMP- Olajumoke I consider you blessed and lucky; many artists have had to print books and works of art only to practically urge people to buy so they can survive, but your works get published, calmly and not in a do or die way, it seems. Your endeavors as an editor and writer in the print and web media also serves as a channel to perform your artistry. Which would you say is more enjoyable: Your career as a Poet or that of a literature/media person?
OLAJUMOKE- Thank you. Your words are very kind. As artists, we are both blessed and lucky. Yet, the idea of success—which I believe your question tries to address—is rather subjective. You have to understand that the internet and the media can sometimes be overwhelmingly fictitious in defining the success of an artist. This is why the true realities of an artist are usually distorted in the media—like, good reviews of a book does not equal good sales.
In all, I’m eternally grateful for many things, even the mistakes I make. Nothing is a do or die for me. There’s so much to give and the length of life might not be enough for it, so why choose death when you can just do (imagine) life? Be immortal.
For most enjoyed career….let’s just say, I make efforts to enjoy what I do. Life is too short. As long as I can write, I’d be fine—I’d suffer my emotions, and be human. That’s fulfillment.
AFRIKAJUMP- What one major challenge did you have to tackle in your art to get to where you are now and how did you do it? Can you share?
OLAJUMOKE- Er…how do I answer this question?
I was lucky with my first book, I Am Memory. Yet, when I look back, there was just me struggling to stay afloat, fighting to stay sane. It’s been all small steps moving forward, and those small steps are still in motion. There’s no big story of being picked from somewhere and dropped somewhere—sorry. I’m not a movie star or a rock star, I’m a writer. Every day comes with a promise to challenge.
The truth is that we always try to put a structure to this thing, but a writer’s journey is not defined by plans in that sense. You can plan to finish a book in a year and it runs into years. You may hope to get a publisher in one-year and you don’t get one in ten. The structures in place only ask you to keep working – that is a challenge. You could become depressed wondering when and where you’d fit into a space in the mythical skies where all birds have enough space to fly. Until, your work is published and read, you are just trying everything. You’re sending out submissions, attending events, learning and forming opinions….this never ends. It’s cyclical.
You’re trying to keep your soul from wandering and it is the writing that captures it. You send it out, it finds a home. It gets a name. You hone the craft—you keep honing the craft. The challenge is cyclical. In all of this, you keep sane by understanding yourself above the noise: you remember how we dream differently, and you try to keep be.
In another dimension, I think we push our struggles differently as writers, as artists, so let’s just say I’m pushing mine with as much passion and self-will as I can power. I don’t know how you arrived at your condition, but there’s goodwill in it and that is promise.
Remember also, that this narrative is simply a writer outside life’s happenings in Nigeria. A writer struggling to put food on the table, trying to subsist.
AFRIKAJUMP- Deep. You are a picture of calm and innocence until one starts to read your works that address the heavier stuff in our society, Corruption, Imperialism, our history. Your bravery and fierceness in I Am Memory which you published in 2008 addressed topics many would rather wish away. Why did you take on this challenge?
OLAJUMOKE- It’s interesting that it all turned out the way it did. Bravery is a kind word. You are an artist, and you know we do not choose depression or restlessness to overtake our calm, yet anytime one visits one’s core values, which spurred one to be an artist, one settles for sanity, for calm, one writes the trouble—what you described as ‘the heavy stuff.’
Considering that I wrote I am memory under the influence of ongoing debates on media reports at the time—largely from members of Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) at the Ladipo Labinjo close, Surulere, Lagos, and there was the host of artists at Committee for Relevant Arts (CORA). After the monthly meetings, it was not unusual to see the older members debate the state of the nation at different hangouts in Lagos. Perhaps, I was lucky to start attending literary and art events where fierce debates were the norm. Perhaps; talking politics with my dad made me question the society even more. It could also be that I was an angry teenager and then young adult who was alarmed at how the protective hold of my parents did not prepare me for the horrors on the street. Perhaps all of this influenced the tangent of the themes. I gave the first manuscript to a poet, Akeem Lasisi when I was about 21, or there about. I started the book as a commentary on reparations because of my ancestry which finds root in the transatlantic slavery. I wanted to understand what MKO Abiola, who was passionate about the cause was talking about. I did some research and it turned out differently. I showed it to the Master Poet, Odia Ofeimun and he made suggestions. You must as well understand, I didn’t know what I was doing. I was responding to the environment, innocently.
AFRIKAJUMP- Brilliant. What inspired your second book, Birth of Illusion?
I was writing this other book and then I got stuck. So, I started to put together a poem to capture the zeitgeist of private and public turbulence in the world in the last decade. Old poems got a slot and new poems found a place as well.
AFRIKAJUMP- I love when that happens. You know, like the saying one door closes another opens. Now say you are appointed by the government to help salvage Nigeria’s literary sector what three things would you primarily or immediately address?
OAJUMOKE- There’s no point making a list – the government should focus on education. Beyond literacy, which is not even available, we need a country of educated minds. A country with a history; A country where the parts can question the whole. Presently, everything in the country reeks of failure – usually, people suffer ‘curse of knowledge’ ours is a ‘curse of ignorance’. We are so ignorant of our illiterate state, we do not realise we have fallen down the continental ladder as a country. We’re going about as largest black nation. Please, if we have educated minds, the literary sector would thrive. We would create structures that won’t be subsumed under political thuggery and social despondency.
AFRIKAJUMP- Nothing like inept public office holders to bring the fire out of a patriot. Which author(s) are you currently reading, if any?
OLAJUMOKE- Ibrahim Al-Koni Scarecrow, Claudia Rakine Citizen, Sarah Manyinka Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun, Odia Ofeimun, A Boiling Caracas, and Ryan Holiday Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator.
AFRIKAJUMP- What book by another writer did you wish you wrote?
OLAJUMOKE- This one is hard o. I’ll pick any of Toni Morrison’s books; Okay, I’ll stick with Sula.
AFRIKAJUMP- Your top 3 authors. This is a tough one, I know.
OLAJUMOKE- I’ve decided I won’t do this again. It is torture. If you insist, the current authors on my reading list. Once I’m done, the next authors I’m reading. If, you however, think you should really, really know. Whenever death visits, the last three on my lips could be taken as the final word.
AFRIKAJUMP- HAHAHAHAHA Well played. Any projects in the works you want us to know about?
OLAJUMOKE- Yes, but I’m superstitious.
AFRIKAJUMP- HAHAHAHA you are amazing Jumoke, thank you. Lastly, can you describe your city in one word?
Keep up with the writer here- https://twitter.com/awapointe
You can get her new book on the link below
Photo by Seye Kehinde.