Last week I was privileged to attend the book launch of Taiye Selasi’s debut novel – Ghana Must Go. Now if you’ve visited major book stores and read literary pages both online and offline in the last two months, then there is a great possibility you may have stumbled on a review of her book or an interview with her.
It’s funny how certain things can converge all at the same time. About a month or so ago, I was reading the monthly newsletter from Goodreads, when I notice this ad on the right hand side about this book that had a title with a lot of political meaning for Nigerians and Ghanians who lived through the eighties. I click on the ad (I guess banner advertising still works) and got to read a blurb about the book.
Now there’s a Waterstones bookstore by my office and everyday as I walk past, I always say ‘One day one of my books will be on the display window.’ Well on this Tuesday morning, as I walked past Waterstones on London Wall, my book wasn’t on the window but a poster about Taiye Selasi was. I walked into the store, enquired and discovered that she would be having a book launch a month later. Well, last Tuesday was the d-day and the event did leave quite an impression on me. Below are some of the things I learnt/remembered from an evening with Taiye Selasi.
Like most events, everything didn’t go according to plan. There were siren noises during the reading, people noisily walking up and down the stairs (the event was held on the underground floor), people who came late and caused a distraction with their heels or chitter chatter, tough questions that were borderline insulting aimed at Taiye etc. With everything that was tossed Taiye’s way, she diffused each distraction and missile with her humor. There wasn’t any question that would wipe the smile from her face or distraction that would throw her off course. As someone who writes funny books but isn’t always in a funny mood, it was good to be reminded that nothing is really worth stealing your joy.
Believe in Yourself
I have to admit before the event, I had read some average to not so good reviews about her book. I have to admit that I hadn’t read the book and was wondering if it was really as good as the glowing reviews other readers had suggested. I’m glad I went to the event as it gave me the opportunity to hear and see an author who believed in her work and was able to share with the audience her motivations, challenges and journey to getting the book published. Taiye believes in her book and it was really beautiful to see an author who believes in their work and is passionate about writing.
There was something that really stuck in my mind during the event. Before anyone asked a question, Taiye made sure to ask for their name. Well this lady asked a question and later in the evening raised her hand to ask another question. Taiye called the lady by her first name and said she could go ahead and ask the question. The lady was surprised and thanked Taiye for remembering her name. Taiye responded by saying the lady didn’t need to thank her. She went on to say that if the lady could remember her (Taiye’s) name, then why couldn’t Taiye remember her name. I think I was not the only one who was impressed by this touch. I think we all have this impression of celebrities or people in the public eye having enormous egos. It’s always refreshing when you see first hand that this is not always the case.
Don’t be Pigeon-Holed
There were several questions that alluded to the fact that the book had an African setting and Taiye was a female and if Taiye saw herself as an African author or a female author. She did a good job sharing with us that she had no problem being labelled and such labels were actually created by Sales people in publishing houses to help sell a book. No author goes before their computer and says that I’m black/white or male/female or come from an affluent or impoverished background and I’m going to allow that background put limitations on what I can write. Every author approaches their work first of all wanting to tell a story. Yes, our backgrounds influence our writing but in the realm of fiction, our backgrounds should not determine what we can and cannot write. At the end of the day as Taiye beautifully put it, all writing can be boiled down to two categories: good writing and bad writing. Hopefully, an author’s desire is that his work is classified in the ‘good’ category.
I met some wonderful people at the event and was privileged to have a chat with Taiye’s publisher who has been responsible for the media blitz surrounding Taiye’s book. I had a book signed by Taiye and will start reading it before the end of the month. If you ever have the opportunity, I’d encourage you to go to a book launch of an author in your local area. You’ll definitely pick up a thing or two that could inspire and aid your writing efforts.