Interview with Ayobami Adebayo, shortlisted for her novel Stay with Me
Where and when did the idea for Stay With Me come from?
Stay With Me evolved from a short story I wrote after an acquaintance passed on in 2008. I read the story again in 2010 and started working on the novel a few weeks later.
Can you tell us a bit about place or places you wrote Stay With Me from?
I started writing Stay With Me in Lagos. I was working in a bank and did most of my writing on the staff bus, in the morning (5.30-7.15 am) and at night (7-10 pm). I wrote with my mobile phone, saved paragraphs as draft text messages and transcribed them on Saturdays. All this happened between Ojodu and 20, Marina, but I think most of it happened on third mainland bridge.
In Ile Ife, while I waited for my MA classes to start, I wrote at night after taking walks through the university staff quarters. The streets were almost empty and I could think out loud about what was going on in the novel. I had a desk that I never got used to, so I sat on the floor in the living room and worked through the night after everyone had gone to bed. After the MA program kicked off, I wrote in the departmental seminar room where we received lectures. I wrote in my class notebooks while my lecturers said important things about Foucault, Morrison and Fanon.
At Ledig House in New York, I was surrounded by art. I wandered through the sculpture park and tried to catch a turtle by the pond. I drank lots of tea, barely slept, and was able to get a lot of work done. It was amazing to think about the novel almost every minute without worrying about what to cook for dinner. I will always be grateful for my time there.
What inspires you to write?
Bits of a conversation overheard in the market, the way a colleague uses a particular word in every other sentence, the scar at the nape of a stranger’s neck, the sound of water dripping into a bowl, the news, a child’s lopsided smile.
Inspiration comes in incremental measures until it builds into something I can touch and taste. I think everything around me has the potential to inspire me at some point.
Tell us about 3 writers you admire and why?
Toni Morrison’s novels are just so seamless. Her prose has this lyrical quality that makes me want to keep going after I’ve turned the last page. With her, I wouldn’t mind if there is no plot or story, the language is more than enough.
Buchi Emecheta’s prose always moves me. Her female characters are often flawed and brave. It is intriguing to watch them make their way through a world that seldom leaves room for their flaws and rarely applauds their bravery.
In Yunior, Junot Diaz has created a sympathetic character out of someone I don’t imagine I would even like if I met him. However, the way Diaz has constructed Yunior, I actually love the dude! Every time I meet Yunior, I want more.
How did you hear about the Kwani? Manuscript Project?
I read about the competition on The Bookaholic Blog.
If you had to describe Stay With Me as a cross between two other novels, what would they be?
Tahmima Anam’s A Golden Age and Anita Shreve’s Testimony