At Chuku’s HQ, we love a good read and the more observant among you will have spotted the growing Chuku’s library in the restaurant. So, it was our pleasure and joy to chat to fellow lover of stories, Nancy Adimora, founder of African storytelling platform AFREADA. She made us laugh (a lot) as she talks identity, power of storytelling and her love for calamari.
You call yourself London-Nigerian - what does that mean to you?
I actually call myself a Nigerian-Londoner. The ordering of the two is pretty important. “Nigerian” first, because I am Nigerian before anything, and “Londoner” as opposed to an identity linked with England or the UK more broadly, because my experiences in Britain have exclusively revolved around the capital city. I was born in London, I was raised in London, but there was always egusi-filled ice-cream containers stored away our fridges and freezers, so I think Nigerian-Londonder is the best way to succinctly capture this beautiful fusion of identities.
What's your relationship to Nigeria?
It’s a close one. I absolutely love Nigeria. We used to go back every summer holiday for a minimum of 5-6 weeks so it’s always felt like home. Nowadays, I’m not around as much as I would like to be but I’m hoping that changes in the coming months and years. As a country, we’re far from perfect but I don’t see that as a deterrent at all. It’s almost a call to action and I hear the call, loud and clear!
“Obsessed with African storytelling and calamari” – love that description of yourself! What role does storytelling play in your culture and your life specifically?
Storytelling is LIFE! Literally. I don’t even know how to fully express this. It’s not something that’s exclusive to writers either - we’ve been telling stories since the beginning of time and its power lies in how it allows us to connect with so many different people on an emotional level. It’s everywhere, it’s in the new song you can’t stop playing, it’s in the ads companies use to sell products, it’s in the emails you send. It’s everywhere, and if you know how to spot it, and more importantly, if you know how to effectively use it, you’re set. You’ve got everything you need.
I have to add that calamari is also LIFE, but that wasn’t the question so I’ll leave it at that.
What is AFREADA?
AFREADA is a media company, featuring compelling and contemporary stories from emerging writers across Africa and the diaspora. We began as a digital publication in 2015 with an exclusive focus on fictional short stories, and have since published in excess of 200 stories from Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Madagascar, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Rwanda, South Africa and beyond. Since launching we have managed to attract a truly global community of enthusiastic and engaged readers and we are now exploring how we can use various art forms and storytelling devices to allow our community to explore all 54 African countries through literature, photography, film and more. In short, we are committed to telling authentic African stories.
Why did you start it?
I’ve always been a reader, but I fell in love with stories when I received Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Christmas when I was 14 years old. Since then, I have always travelled with books, particularly on my morning commutes to work. When life got busier, and the thought of committing myself to novel felt daunting, I went through a season of reading short story collections and I found myself really enjoying them. I realised that there was a growing number of literary enthusiasts who may not always have the luxury of time to dedicate to an entire book, but who wouldn't mind a 5-10 minute short story which they could easily access from their phones or an alternative mobile device. So, with AFREADA, we find great stories from writers across Africa, edit them, source content images, and publish them for our readers to read and enjoy for free because I’m ultimately motivated by the transformative potential of storytelling and accessibility is key to this.
What do you see as “the power of ideas”?
I’ve always loved how everything we see around us, chairs, phones, cars, beds, handbags, literally everything started off as an idea. But my real love for ideas stemmed from religiously watching TED talks throughout my time at university. It was only then that I came to appreciate that the power of ideas is in the act of sharing them. We all have incredible ideas that we keep to ourselves, but the second we release them out into the world, we open it up to a whole world of possibilities. I’m not just talking about business ideas either, I’m talking about new ways of thinking and seeing the world around us. I now organise TEDxEuston events with a beautiful team of people and it’s a joy and a privilege to see how simple ideas like “we should all be feminists” can go from our stage, to a Beyonce track, to a slogan on a Dior t-shirt, and a book that was gifted to every 16-year-old in Sweden. That is the power of ideas.
What social innovation has got you really excited this year?
I recently came across a BBC Africa video on Twitter about a school in Lagos that allows parents in low-income communities to pay for their children’s fees with plastic bottles. It’s part of a waste-reduction/recycling initiative but it has so much social impact and I thought it was an exceptional idea. I did a quick Google search and I believe the organisation is called the African Clean-Up Initiative.
What is Ofe Akwu? And how often are you caught daydreaming about a hot plate of it?
Lol I love these questions. ‘Ofe’ means soup/stew in Igbo and ‘Akwu’ refers to the palm nut, so the two together refers to the elite stew made with palm nut, that is usually served with boiled white rice. It’s also known as Banga soup in the Delta region - I was in Nigeria last December and tried their version at a restaurant in Lekki and it’s different, but it still bangs. I love Ofe Akwu because it reminds me of my summer holidays in Nigeria, when we would beg to help out in the kitchen, and I’d pound on the palm nut with a pestle the size of my legs, or when I’d sit in a corner, with a tray, separating the ugu leaves from the stem. I loved the love that went into preparing it, it reminds me of so much, and now every spoonful is a spoonful of nostalgia. (Although I would like to make it clear that this is a figure of speech and I do not eat rice with a spoon because I’m better than that.)
Calamari or Ofe Akwu?
LOL! That’s like asking, chicken or stew? It’s never one or the other. If I absolutely had to pick, I’d go for the latter but, to be honest, my dream is to one day remove the lid of a stainless steel pot and see calamari rings floating around a sea of freshly prepared Ofe Akwu. I believe it’s possible. Maybe not in our lifetime but certainly in our children’s.
Everyone knows Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adiche, but what other great African storytellers are there?
When I think of storytellers I don’t immediately think of established writers. I like to think of the term more broadly because some of the best storytellers I come across today are tweeting fire threads on Twitter, or capturing engaging events and weaving them into stories on Instagram. Even if I stick to writers, there’s absolutely NO WAY I can share an exhaustive list so I’ll just pick a handful of some faves. Lesley Nneka Arimah, Chigozie Obioma, Ayobami Adebayo, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Tomi Adeyemi, Binyavanga Wainaina, Afua Hirsch and Khaled Hosseini (who isn’t African but who I can’t bring myself to exclude).
Chimamanda talks about the danger of the single story - what African novel or true story would you most like people to know about?
For fiction, I’d say So The Path Does Not Die by Pede Hollist. Starts in Sierra Leone, moves to Washington DC, then back to Sierra Leone. I remember really enjoying this story and thinking that it’s one of those great books that not enough people have read. For non-fiction, definitely Born a Crime, an unforgettable memoir by Trevor Noah, full of the most bizarre and moving stories you’ll ever come across. You learn so much about South Africa, and I’d highly recommend listening to it on Audible!
What role do you feel you have to play in shaping a future Nigeria?
My contributions to Nigeria will definitely be linked to storytelling, in the broadest sense of the word. I have a few ideas that are keeping me up at night but my plan is to shuttle between London and Lagos over the next couple of years so I’ll have a clearer understanding of the opportunities and the creative gaps in the market. I haven’t figured everything out, but when I do, you guys will be the very first to know!
If you could chop, chat, chill with 3 people alive or dead who would they be?
Serena Williams. Genevieve Nnaji. Ibukun Awosika.