Lola Akinmade Akerstrom: The Multidisciplinary Storyteller
The art of storytelling is one that has been passed down since time immemorial as it is in our nature as humans to document aspects of our life for personal or impersonal reasons. Using different means of documentation ranging from photography, writing, art, music, and more. It is truly fascinating when one person possesses an innate sense of storytelling that knows no boundaries whether it be through words or pictures.
Lola Akinmade Akerstrom is an award-winning writer and National Geographic photographer who has photographed and dispatched from 70+ countries for various publications. Boasting the 2018 Travel Photographer of the Year Bill Muster Award as well as the 2018 Lowell Thomas Award for best travel book, for her book Due North. She has also authored Lagom: Swedish Secret of Living Well which is a bestseller and available in 18 foreign language editions.
Her latest offering “In Every Mirror She’s Black” has received glowing reviews from readers and critics around the world and she has proven once again that she truly knows her onions.
She sits down with The Guardian Life to discuss her early life, thoughts on race, and her latest masterpiece.
Kindly tell us about yourself
I was born in Nigeria, educated in the US, and now based in Sweden, I am a visual storyteller and multipotentialite – someone who thrives on multiple creative outlets at once
What was your childhood like and where did you grow up?
I grew up in Lagos in a family of travelers so wanderlust has always been in my blood. I’m also grateful to have parents who never put limits on what I could do or dream up for myself as a young girl.
You’ve gone on to do so much ranging from top-of-the-line internationally acclaimed
photography to authoring award-winning books. At what point did you decide on the
trajectory you wanted your life to take?
I can pinpoint the exact moment. In 2002, I was standing in a river in Fiji as part of the volunteer media team for the Eco-challenge Expedition race. My job was to write stories about amazing places the expedition was traversing. At the moment, I knew I wanted to be a travel writer and photographer who told visual stories about our world and its beautiful cultures.
Before that point, I was a Geographic Information Systems programmer and System Architect.
What/who were your early influences?
Fiction was my first love and it feels like a wonderful full-circle moment to return to it. I read widely and deeply, and as a teenager in my university English literature class, I discovered D.H. Lawrence and the dramatic interiority of his work. Since then I’ve had lots of literary inspiration from Toni Morrison to Jacqueline Woodson.
Tell us about the inspiration behind your latest book “In Every Mirror She’s Black”
In Every Mirror She’s Black was a story that organically developed after years of living in Sweden and observing how the voices of Black women resonate within society, which spaces we are invited to occupy or not, and if those spaces allow us to thrive or simply survive. Having lived in both Nigeria and the U.S. for extended periods before moving to Sweden, I wanted to pull out the nuances of navigating the world in my skin against the backdrop of very different cultures.
What role does race and identity play in the writing of your books?
They often say debut novelists are quite ambitious because we want to tackle every single societal problem in a single book. With In Every Mirror She’s Black, I wanted to address them seamlessly while spotlighting all these issues because they aren’t mutually exclusive. At what point does racism become tokenism as one moves into a certain economic class, and isn’t tokenism a form of racism? Can one have sexism without some form of fetishization? So simply picking one issue to focus on didn’t make sense to me. In reality, they all blend into one another because life is frustratingly complex and multilayered.
What do you think makes a good story?
A good story is one that is deceptively simple yet complex, that hooks you in with an intriguing beginning, takes you through the narrative with solid transitions, and deposits you at the end with an emotional investment.
You wear so many hats, how do you manage to balance everything you have going on?
God, a loving family, and a supportive network.
How do you de-stress when you’re feeling overwhelmed?
I don’t keep long to-do lists because they add unnecessary stress. So I focus on daily and weekly increments of work to keep it manageable, plus I schedule in regular massages.
What do your close friends and family think of your writing?
They are proud and supportive of my unique voice as a storyteller.
What would you want readers to take away from your latest offering?
To me, the power of In Every Mirror She’s Black is that everyone will walk away with something different. It could be anything from fully understanding that Black women are not monoliths to the effects of denial on not confronting issues, and how isolating and excluding even the strongest among us can eventually break. There is no one specific “Black culture.” The same privilege of treating White people as individuals is long overdue for Black people.
Do you have any long-term goals you’d like to share with us?
Lots of writing in the works, including new books. You can always follow my musings at @LolaAkinmade to see what I’m working on.