Monday, July 05, 2010

An Interview with Author Nana Awere Damoah

IMAG: You have been writing that long, as I read in your book. But what inspired you to start writing? Which books did you read as a child growing up?

NAD: My very first article, published in “Through the Gates of Thought”, was written in 1993, so I trace my writing life to that year. But my appreciation of the literary and my involvement in things literary actually started much earlier, in the Preparatory school in the early ‘80s when each class had to perform a play a day before the vacation day. Small beginnings, appreciation of the arts, learning the rudiments of prose and poetry. I remember being taught, in preparation for the Common Entrance in preparatory school, to answer the question: write a story ending with ‘…and the boy learnt a lesson for life, that obedience is better than sacrifice.’ Small beginnings of creative writing.


Then in Form one, in 1986, I wrote what I consider my first creative work, in (you won’t believe this) my history class: “A day in Carthage”. It was purely fictional, and I loved it! In the sixth form, we wanted to form a Literary Club and that was what led me to write that first article. My first break as a writer came in 1995 when I submitted a short story, ‘The showdown’, to the popular weekly newspaper The Mirror, and it was published! Seeing my name in print, knowing that this newspaper was the best selling paper in Ghana and circulated all over the country, gave me immense confidence and encouragement. My skills were further honed when I joined the Literary Wing of the Christian fellowship during University.


In my early days, and this hasn’t changed much, I wrote a lot during the day, in my study notebooks, on sheets of paper, whenever and wherever inspiration hit. I continued to submit stories to The Mirror, the Spectator (which published one story), magazines on the University campus and shared my writings with the Literary club and also posted on notice boards in the Department and my hall of residence, Katanga Hall. Some of them were published, some were rejected! I also did a lot of reading in the secondary school and University, to learn about various writing styles.


I started my writing journey with essays, but moved swiftly into short stories. In 1997, I entered and won a national competition for true short stories. I got into poetry in the University, during my undergraduate years, and used to recite my poems in church. I started writing these essays which form the material for both books, in Oct 2004 and circulated to my friends via email. When I was in the UK for my masters, I started updating them on the blog (www.excursionsinmymind.blogspot.com).


I would say my two English teachers – Mrs Ayiah and Mr Thompson – inspired me a lot, as they expressed some faith in my essays and compositions. I was also inspired by a strong desire to share what I learnt – in my bible studies, in my reading, what I learnt through observation and experience – with my friends. It must have started via letters I wrote to new converts made during crusades of Joyful Way Incorporated (I have been a member since 1992). I am motivated by my desire to make my impact on my society, with my thoughts.


Growing up, I read a lot of fairy tales in Preparatory school, especially those translated from Russian (I can’t remember where I got them from, possibly from my uncle and sister who travelled to Nigeria). In Secondary school, I devoured the Pacesetters series and the African Writers series. I remember reading about four books in the Pacesetters series per day; because they were small books, they were prone to theft by the students so you had to sign for them at the librarian’s desk before taking them. I would pick on, submit in about an hour and a half and sign for another – it was fun! That must have encouraged me to become a Library Prefect in Sixth form and that is when I started experimenting with my pen.

IMAG: Your works seem to be inspirational and motivational, and they tackle the very root of the Ghanaian problem, if I should say so. To what extent do you think your book (Through the Gates of Thought) can help solve this problem?

NAD: In sharing through my writings, my earnest hope is that I may be able to change even one mind. If I can change one such mind, I would have contributed to the agenda of building our nation, our continent, our world. That is why I ensure the reader is not left hanging without an action point, each article provokes the reader to take an action, upon reflecting on the main points.


IMAG:
 How different is your book (Through the Gates of Thought) different from any other inspirational books?

NAD: I prefer to refer to my book as reflective, rather than motivational. The analogy in the differentiation is this: a motivational book may provoke you, positively, to start running, in whatever direction - that is speed. A reflective book, which is more than yet inclusive of motivational, will cause you to run, in a direction, knowing where and why you are running – that is velocity. Because it matters not how hard you row the boat if you are headed in the wrong direction.


IMAG: You seem to remember most events and especially the dates on which they occurred. How do you do that?


NAD: Haha, I guess it is a gift. OK, seriously, I like to note a lot of things down, so I keep journals and diaries, some dating back to the early ‘90s. For instance, I have the original copies of the scripts for two chapters in the book: ‘Gate 9: The Written Letter’ and ‘Gate 14: Do this and you will be on top!’, which were both written in the ‘90s. Some of the dates I also get from the letters I exchanged. Finally, above all, I reflect on these occurrences in my life for years, so I do have some of the dates firmly entrenched in my memory.


IMAG: How are you able to combine working full-time at Unilever (a work I believe is very demanding) with writing (something I know is demanding)?


NAD: Nana, it all comes down to passion for me. I look at my writing as more than a hobby, I see it as a ministry, as the main vehicle and medium for me to impact my generation and beyond. I view it as my ministry and a legacy I can leave: How you treat the talent you have is a reflection on how you view it in the total picture of what you are here on earth to do. I see my writing as a ministry, because as a friend told me, through these I can reach some who may never be within the confines of a church. Because I see it as such, I invest in it, knowing and believing that through this talent, I can be significant. In the parable of the talents, the guy with one talent missed an opportunity to become a banker! Look again at his master’s response to him.


So I create time for the things that matter and what I believe in. So when friends ask me numerous times how I am able to get time to write. I tell them I don’t get time, I make time. I usually write at dawn (my thoughts are clearer when the world is asleep), or when I am not too tired after work, in the evenings, sitting in the living room with the family. I once asked a mentor of mine, Ace Ankomah, how he could make time for his legal work, lay preaching, lecturing, playing the bass guitar at church, teaching choirs, etc. His response? “I sleep less!”


When you believe in something, go for it. The monetary gain for me is just surplus, the personal satisfaction cannot be quantified. I wake up each day knowing, as I write, that my thoughts are affecting lives, my talent is not wasted, I am relevant

On another level, I use writing to distress after work. When I am down and feeling low, I write as a therapy.


IMAG: How involved are you in the literary circles in Ghana, as I read your novel Truth Floats in the first edition of African Roar?


NAD: Not as much as I would love to. I am still working on that, but have been engaging online with some established and emerging writers and poets like Albert & Comfort Ocran, Alba K Sumprim, Ayesha Harruna Attah, Boakyewaa Glover, Ato Kwamena Dadzie, Esi Cleland, Danny Hanson and Kwaku Sonny. I have met a couple of them face-to-face. There is a project in the offing by one leading author and publisher for an author’s forum soon, we will see how it goes. I am still work in progress and I intend to tap into the experience of those who have gone ahead of me.


IMAG: How do you see the Literary Scene in Ghana? Is it progressing or retrogressing? 


NAD: My humble view is that it is beginning to rise again, progressively. A new set of writers are coming up after the golden generation of Ama Ataa Aidoo, Ayi Kwei Armah, Efua Sutherland and Atukwei Okai; this is encouraging. We don’t have a dearth of writing talent, I am sure of that. The formation of book clubs also must go on, we need to excite our people, especially the youth to read. We still have a long way to go, and we have only now started the drive upwards after the decline. I hope I am contributing my quota with my books. I have also observed a growing trend of public readings and poetry events – that is great!


IMAG: Your observations about Ghanaians in Gate 15 is keen. It is something I have talked about on my blog before and something I still do talk about. How have you, as a person, solved it or tried overcoming such a problem, because sometimes it is synonymous to life in Ghana and it is easy for one to be classified as opinionated (or 'too known' in the Ghanaian parlance) if one decides to eschew such vices?


NAD: Our problem, Nana, is not a scarcity of resources – human, natural, intellectual, etc;  our problem is our unwillingness or our lack of motivation to take action on what we know is right. We are good at diagnosing the root causes of problems (and I wrote about that in Gate 4: ‘Infant Steps’) but so pathetic at action. That is why I am focused on contributing my bit towards a mindset change. It is all in the mind, because why should the Ghanaian behave differently when he is outside the borders of this nation? I am trying to help in overcoming it, in my own life and actions, in what I influence in my coaching and counseling of my team at work and in voluntary societies. I just posted on my Facebook status that if we would all exhibit the world-class attitude and fighting spirit plus the urge to die for the name of our nation as the Black Stars did at this world cup 2010, what a nation we would have! We need both mindset and attitudinal change. There is hope yet!


IMAG: Reading your book, I know you are a Christian, and I know also that you were in the University Hall (I was in Unity Hall between 1999 and 2003) and therefore a Katangee. How were you able to live within the negative perception the Hall carries and come out unscathed?


NAD: Do you REALLY want me to talk about the only hall in the world? J Katangees are the best people you could meet in the world, we do things with all our heart. I spent almost six happy years in that hall, and loved it! Living in Katanga was good for me as a Christian, there was no room for lukewarmness, either you were a serious Christian or you were not! There was such a great cloud of witnesses around you at all times, ensuring that you live as you professed. But what negative perception are you talking about? Katanga for life!


IMAG: Which books are your all time favourites, if there are any

NAD: Chinua Achebe’s “Things fall apart” is an all-time favorite. I am also a biography buff, and I have a good collection. I have read so many novels I can’t even remember. And yes, “How to make friends and influence people” by Dale Carnegie is another great favorite, the first non-fiction book that had a very great influence on my life, and changed my views, actually. The first time I read it, I borrowed from a friend, and that was around 1991/92. I took copious notes which I still have! Since then, I have re-read it a number of times.


IMAG: What do you have to say to Ghanaians and also to writers?


NAD: For Ghanaians, let me say that life is a business to be worked at and lived, not just dreamed about, and that in doing this, we need to be ‘learning people’ – there is an example, a message, a lesson, a warning or a moral you can discover in every scene of the play that is  called ‘life.’ He is never old who continues to learn and he is already old who ceases to learn. Harvey Ullman puts the same thought this way: “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether this happens at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps on learning not only remains young but becomes constantly valuable regardless of physical capacity.” As an Engineer/Author, I seek to be an example to our youth that they can experiment and explore, and not to let their scope and influence on their generation be restricted by their formal training, to stop restricting themselves to the box or pigeon-hole when they can go beyond the perimeter and reach the pinnacle of their potential, to grasp the verity that talents cannot be tamed and should be employed for the universal good of mankind. With these scripts, I attempt to instigate thought, provoke reflections and educe action. 


For writers, I wish to encourage us to document our thoughts as Africans. We erroneously say that Africans don’t like reading, but my humble submission is that we need more literature relevant to us as well, and therein lies my passion to see more African writers come after the generation of the Achibes, Sutherlands, Soyinkas and Ataa Aidoos. We need more African writers, writing our own African stories, for our African readers. There is so much we need to do, and the time to begin was yesterday. My wish is that I can contribute to this renaissance and to the rejuvenation of the African spirit to excellence. Ours is an amazing continent full of resources – both in the ground and in our minds, and may we harness them all to our benefit. Viva Africa!


IMAG: Thanks for your time Nana and I hope you don't stop writing.


NAD: Many thanks too Nana Fredua, for this interview and generally for your ardent support in promoting African literature. I enjoyed this interview and no way, I am hooked onto writing till my last breath. Perhaps, I will even be sending dispatches from heaven!

Read my review of Nana Awere Damoah's second book 'Through the Gates of Thought' here...

2 comments:

  1. This is one long interview but I enjoyed it. Congrats to him and all the best!

    ReplyDelete

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