Bisi Adjapon: Of Ball Boys And Unextinguishd Libidos
Bisi Adjapon, the author of Of Women and Frogs is as ebullient and outrageous as one of her characters. She throws around the word sex with none of the African inborn shame that accompanies it, as ostentatiously and visibly as a hand waving down a taxi on a busy street.
When she looks at you, her untamed hair floating around her like a halo, her bright lipstick slit in half by an ever-present grin, you have the visage of a woman who will never grow old.
Bisi Adjapon’s Of Women and Frogs was only released last year but has already made headlines. She was invited to the prestigious Ake Festival and has, so far, only received one bad review. Guardian Life speaks to Bisi Adjapon on gender, writing and negative reviews
.What does it mean to you, to be an African woman?
I’m expected to be demure. I play tennis with male friends who yell, but a woman displaying her temper creates an uncomfortable atmosphere. Also, financially, women aren’t expected to have a lot. Typically, in tennis, you give tips to the ball boys. When I play, some ball boys assume I don’t have money and ignore me. Once, I was with a male friend and I tipped a ball boy and he thanked the man instead of me!
What does Nigeria get wrong and right about gender?
It’s not just Nigeria. It’s Ghana and many countries in Africa. Society feels there are things men can do that women can’t. Men can cheat on their spouses but women who do so are considered harlots. Also, many assume women over forty have a diminished libido. Recently, I was chatting with friends and the men were shocked when I said a woman over sixty could enjoy sex. One area Africa gets right about gender is income. Men and women tend to earn the same amount of for the same position. What, in your opinion, are the worst and best aspects of the Nigerian publishing industry? Nigerian publishers are brilliant. They don’t have a lot of money but they support and promote their writers and they help writers who aren’t their own. The worst part about Nigerian publishing is the system. It’s too expensive to print books locally, so books are sent abroad to be printed. When the books arrive, they can vegetate at Lagos Port for six months before being cleared. Another bad aspect is piracy. Despite these issues, I still believe in Nigerian publishing.
What are common traps for aspiring writers? Thinking you’re too good to learn. Many writers get cocky because people convince them they’re perfect and they think they don’t have to work on their craft. When did you first learn that language had power and you wanted to wield it?When I was in high school, the teacher would read my essays aloud to the rest of the class, so I loved it. I was a pretty ugly child and I wasn’t popular, but when I wrote, I came alive and people liked my writing. We used to have class play competitions. One year, I wrote a play and our class won. I was so thrilled. Writing was one place I felt secure. How do you deal with bad reviews? Reading is subjective. We all have inner programming, points of references inside us. For that reason, sometimes something clicks and other times it doesn’t. Readers have a right to like a book or not like it. The negative reviews may teach me something or not and that’s okay.
What were your goals for this book, and do you feel you have attained them?
In Of Women and Frogs, I wanted to write about a girl’s sexual evolution. I wanted to show how hard things are for growing girls. I feel I did that from the feedback I’ve received. I gave the early chapters to a friend to read. She began to cry. She told me her mother had given her the ginger-in-the-vagina punishment. She was only six. In my writing, she found validation for her confusion. She knew she wasn’t alone.
What did you find most useful and most destructive in learning to write?
One thing that was both useful and distracting is workshopping. I joined an online workshop. One of the member’s writing was so raw, it liberated me. The bad aspect of workshops is bad advice. Bad advice can be destructive. You have to be careful whom you show your work to. Listen to advice, but not from those who can’t write.
Ebook or hard copy?
Hard copy, always.