We caught up with brilliant Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction nominated author Ayobami Adebayo, who made this year’s shortlist with her debut Stay With Me. Read on to find out how Ayobami was inspired by fellow Nigerian author and Women’s Prize for Fiction winner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, why she was compelled to write about Sickle Cell Disease and how a short story became Stay With Me.
Who are your literary heroines?
Toni Morrison, Zulu Sofola, Arundhati Roy, Maya Angelou, Jhumpa Lahiri, Margaret Atwood, Yiyun Li, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ijeoma Umebinyuo, Marylinne Robinson, Octavia Butler, Warsan Shire, Bessie Head, Alice Walker, the list is endless. Also, my grandmother whom I constantly harassed into telling me stories when I was too young to read.
When did you start writing Stay With Me and what initially inspired you?
I began writing Stay with Me in 2010. A few years before, I’d lost a couple of friends to sickle cell disease and I couldn’t stop thinking about what they and their families had been through. Eventually, I wrote a short story to clarify my thoughts and it morphed into Stay with Me.
Sickle cell disease (SCD – a disorder which affects around 1 in 4 Nigerians) is hugely important in your book. Why was it important for you to explore this issue through fiction?
I’ve found that fiction helps me to broach difficult topics with acquaintances and even friends. I hope Stay with Me encourages the difficult but important conversations about what it means to live with SCD and the implications of carrying the sickle cell gene.
You met Women’s Prize for Fiction winner Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie at a writing workshop when you were 19 – would you say this was a formative experience for you as a writer?
It was the first writing workshop I’d attend and it was transformative to have had the opportunity, so early on, to explore writing as a craft. The experience had an impact on the things I went on to write subsequently.
See the whole 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist here.