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In Conversation: Sarah Ladipo Manyika

Sarah Ladipo Manyika is one of the most beautiful people I have interviewed and connected with in recent times. Her inner beauty radiates through her words and her actions. She is sweet, intelligent, warm and welcoming. Confident in herself and her own space, she is not afraid to share what she knows. She possesses a versatility that I admire in other women and pray I have. I interviewed her for the New African Woman in January about her debut novel, In Dependence. In her own words, Sarah Ladipo Manyika and what she wants readers to take away from reading her book.

Sarah LadipoBelinda: What’s the inspiration behind In Dependence?

Sarah: At the time that I began to write the novel, I was looking for a really good love story set in the geographical locations and historical periods that I was particularly interested in (namely West Africa from the 1960s to present day).  I found stories of war and civil strife, of tyranny and of corruption, but where were all the grand amours, the tales of love and heartache?  There were, it seemed, very few love stories (and even fewer cross-cultural love stories) set in Africa and because I did not find the stories I was looking for, I wrote one for myself.

Belinda: Tayo and Vanessa’s story serves as a lens for readers to see life as it were in the 60s for a mixed race couple – aspects of daily life in England from the African and British perspectives of both characters.  What’s the story about life in England and Nigeria during the time your novel is set that you want to get across to your reader or anyone who picks up your book?

Sarah: The 1960s have always struck me as an exciting period for much of the world.  This was the time of independence movements across Africa, the Civil Rights movement in the US and various counter-cultural movements within Europe.  Artists ranging from Bob Dylan to Fela Kuti and the Beatles were amongst many to herald this change.  And in a way there is an interesting symmetry between this period and present day in which Barack Obama, a product of this earlier generation, has once again championed change.  I hope that my book evokes some of the excitement of this earlier period and leaves the reader with continued hope for today.

Belinda: The relationship between Tayo and Vanessa stands out because it challenges the norms of society, British and Nigerian, especially where inter-racial relationships are concerned. Was that an element of the British and Nigerian society and the world at large that you wanted to question and explore?

Sarah: What I was most interested in exploring within In Dependence, was the nature of relationships and the nature of love.  What makes us fall in love?  What makes us stay in love?  And how, and to what extent is the success of a relationship inextricably intertwined with societal expectations and/or prejudices?  Hence the notions of dependence and interdependence hinted at by the title of my book.  I wanted to write a story with love as a central theme – a transatlantic, African love story.

Belinda: Who are your influences when it comes to literature or for their writing style?

Sarah: There have been many influences on my writing ranging from writers, to storytellers, to artists of all sorts, including musicians, filmmakers and painters.  The first stories I heard were those told to me by my parents, grandparents and family friends.  As a child there was nothing I loved better than listening to stories and eavesdropping on grown up conversation.  As I grew older I discovered the joy of reading for myself, but the pleasure of listening to a well-told story has never disappeared.  Having grown up in different parts of Africa, I have always been drawn by stories set in the continent and now that I live abroad I find myself particularly drawn to immigrant stories.  I have, for example, always loved the work of Sembene Ousmane (film, short stories and novels).  Another favourite writer is James Baldwin who writes clearly and simply with a keen eye for detail, a deep understanding of history and a subtle sense of humour.  I am drawn to many of Chinua Achebe’s essays for the same reasons as well as to Teju Cole’s new and brilliant work, Every Day is for the Thief.  Recently, I’ve been reading and enjoying more short stories.  I love the social satire in Edith Wharton’s stories just as I love the eye for the diasporic in Jhumpa Lahiri and Rishi Reddi’s work and the startling innovativeness of Haruki Murakami.  I am increasingly drawn to women writers, returning to writers such as Virginia Woolf and Mariama Ba and discovering newer writers such as Marilyn Robinson, Laila Lalami and Petina Gappah.

Belinda: I’m sure it is a story that pulls at you emotionally as things fall apart for the two main characters; how important is it for you as a writer to bring these kinds of emotional facets into your work?

Sarah: When I write, I find that it is very important to write with passion about themes, ideas or questions that I am exploring and/or care deeply about.  Right now I am thinking more and more about women’s lives and the roles that we play within society.  I am also thinking about the aging process and how we contemplate death.  Such themes will no doubt surface in my next novel.

Book coverBelinda: You have lived in different countries, how challenging was it to write about Nigeria’s history, life in Britain in the 60s from a young man’s point of view and how deep did you have to dig into your memory bank for stories and images of Nigeria that you carry with you daily?

Sarah: One of the most enjoyable aspects about writing In Dependence was the research.  I was lucky enough to have access to newspapers and magazines of the time including the popular Nigerian magazine, Spear, and the Oxford student newspaper, Isis.  To better familiarise myself with the times, I conducted extensive interviews with family members, parents of friends, and more than twenty students who had studied at Oxford during the time that my novel is set.  Doing research for the novel also provided me with a great excuse to watch films and documentaries from that period and to listen to the music, over and over again.

Belinda: Did you find you were more objective when writing because you could assume the role of an outsider or was the case the reverse?

Sarah: An outsider perspective does not necessarily give a writer greater objectivity, but it does, I believe, allow one to notice things that others might not.  One sees this for example, in the writings of Virginia Woolf in her portrayal of women, and in the short stories of writers such as Jumpha Lahiri and Segun Afolabi with their focus on immigrant life.  Because I have lived in many different countries across three continents, and in differing social milieus, I find myself drawn to people and characters that others might not notice or spend much time thinking about.

Belinda: What do you want readers to take away from the book after reading Independence?

Sarah: I would like a reader to enjoy In Dependence in whatever way is most meaningful to them. My hope though, is that readers might believe in love and have hope about Africa.  And if my novel inspires a reader to write their own story or to start reading more stories, then that’s even better!

About Author: Sarah Ladipo Manyika is a Nigerian Writer based in the US. She holds a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley and teaches literature at San Francisco State University. She has published essays, academic papers, book reviews and short stories. In Independence is her first novel.

Watch out for a review of In Dependence – Coming Soon!!!!!

Author’s website: Sarah Ladipo Manyika

In Dependence is published by Cassava Republic, Nigeria.


8 Responses to “In Conversation: Sarah Ladipo Manyika”

  1. Deborah says:

    Thnx for sharing…hope i can get a copy in swiss.

  2. Belinda Otas says:

    You should be able to. She lives in Switzerland.

  3. Temitayo says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading In Dependence. It made me crave more books like it: a love story (also for the country)…I never noticed whether it was an insider or outsider objective jare. It’s a good book. Pam. End of story 🙂

    Interesting interview you have here. NAW rawks…absolutely. So affordable for so much good quality, I haven’t seen any more issues since the Manyika one o. Though I see the other sister mag by the same publishers… I want more NAW…sorry this is Belinda’s blog 😉

  4. Belinda Otas says:

    Hahaha Temi, it sure is a fine book. The new mag should be out soon. From next week.

  5. Ashley says:

    hey, nice blog…really like it and added to bookmarks. keep up with good work

  6. Jessica Dewhurst says:

    I really enjoyed this interview. I literally just finished reading In Dependence this morning. It is such an inspiring and informative read. For a student currently studying at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, I found Sarah’s researched context valid as well as extremely well written in a passion-evoking manner. I will definitely pass on this book to all I know. And well done on great questioning, I found that many of the questions that came to mind while reading this book were asked and i commend you on your great blog! Will pass on the good word 🙂

  7. Belinda Otas says:

    Thanks for your kind words and glad to hear the post was useful. I am honoured. Pls, stop by again and pass the word too 🙂

  8. […] Read an interview with Sarah Manyika here […]

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