Keeping this blog has brought me into 'virtual' contact with great personalities whom, even in my wildest and widest daydreams, I would not have met let alone communicate with. I am glad that ImageNations has done this for me.
Last Tuesday, September 7, I profiled Dr Fred McBagonluri, a scientist who finds time to write. Dr McBagonluri promised to grant ImageNations an interview even though he is busy as a Sloan Member of MIT. Yes, you read it well. He deals with complex mathematical equations and computerised innovations and still finds time to write. This interview has shot my heart and mind on a joyous trajectory. So here is the interview.
You have achieved great feat as an Engineer, almost nearly making it to Space. Dr. McBagonluri, can you please tell us something about yourself? Not related to your fiction writing.
I was raised by my grandparents in East Legon (Bawaleshie), who never had any formal education. Obviously, they were the wisest people I knew. They always believed in my potential and never relented. I am a testimony to their lives. Without them I'll be nobody. I speak a lot of Ghanaian languages fluently--Dagaare and Ga.
An article I read about you said you corresponded with NASA when you were in primary school at the University of Ghana during the period Astronauts made it to the moon. Were you thinking of being there at that age?
I have heard this as well but I don't remember this correspondence. Although I was always enamored with Astronauts and Space since I was a child. I read about them in Time Magazine and Newsweek, when I was a child. Space for me was man's last boundary of ignorance that had to be unraveled. I never doubted that I would vigorous contest that chance in later life. Anyone, who knew me then would not have doubted that.
Since when did you discover that you would want to write fiction?
My Form Four English Teacher, Moses Donneyong was a major source of inspiration. He was the best teacher I ever had. He demystified the language for me. His feedback from my essays convinced me that I could write. My friend Francis Egu was another inspiration. He summarized for me all the African Writers Series that he read. Thanks to him the only one I ever had to read myself was Ngugi's Weep Not Child. Finally, I had the chance to sit across Prof. Ngugi wa Thiong'o as Smith College around 1997. He was an impressive man.
As an engineer, and a top grade one, how are you able to engineer time to write fiction?
I write mostly on Friday nights. The stress of the week and the anticipation of a restful weekend provide unique creative spur. I also write when I am traveling. There is a lot of musing one gets from the clouds.
I see top grade engineers as individuals who don't have time for earthly issues like fiction. I always picture them reading voluminous books with complex mathematical equations and formulae. The kind of things that could scare people who are not privileged enough to be within such a coterie of minds. Where did this passion for writing come from and how do you get the time to even write?
I have had a unique life. My writing is a reflection of that. I have always been fascinated about human nature and the human experience. And that features in my writing. I have never doubted that the brightest star of nature is humanity. When one can understand how such a superior and complex creature is capable of both kindness and evil one is obliged to write about it.
My grandparents were the best storytellers in the world. Our home in East Legon was a legendary center of convergence for the surrounding villages in the 70s and 80s. Stories were a part of this. The sociology of that interaction left images in my mind that with time translated to words. Writing for me is an outlet, albeit a sociological one.
How are you able to demarcate the line between the writing of very technical scientific papers and fiction?
Technical writing is an attempt to create a better future for humanity. Fictional writing is an attempt to provide humanity with the opportunity to live that future.
In fact you amaze me. You have published three books in three years, two in 2009 alone, February and March. How did you achieve this?
I write not for fame or wealth. I write because I enjoy it. I love to see ideas translate to words. I love to see those words bound nicely and slapped with an amazing cover. There is no greater joy than to hold your own book fresh from the press.
Did you struggle for publishers?
I think there are a lot of publishers, however most of them are looking for published authors, which is a contradiction. The challenge is finding a good book agent. I am still struggling with that. Fortunately, I have been able to finance my work.
Your titles sound more feminine and about love: When Tears Stand Still (2007) and A Woman to Marry (2009). What motivates you to write? And what end do you want to achieve with your literary writings?
This is an interesting question! Men need love too. Perhaps when men start to cry the world will be more peaceful. Yes, I do focus on the fundamental underpinnings of life. We need to live and we need to share tears to maintain sanity. They are simply outcomes of human experience. There is really no feminine or masculine writing. There is great work and mediocre work.
Dusk Recitals: The Growing Years, is autobiographical. What made you write an autobiography or a memoir? And why at this time?
I live my life believing that every moment is the right time. There is actually not enough time in man's life. Life is a series of stages and each has to be documented. Evolution is what ultimately forced our ancestors to give up on their forearms. I believe that my life could be an inspiration to others, the more I share it in real time, the better. I do not want others to come to this in retirement. I want the impact now. In short, that if anyone can dare to dream you can challenge life itself to a precipice.
Your wife Mrs. Diana Bamford McBagonluri is also a writer. Tell us something about her and her works.
She is uniquely an African writer. Her space is broad. She was the lead author of the current English Text for Grades 1-4 in Ghana. She's both a novelist and a dramatist. She focuses squarely on the African literary framework both in plot and in characters.
Who reviews the other's works?
She does. She ensures that the language is amenable to Christian norms. It is always a tango.
Which literary books are you currently reading? And which did you read growing up?
I just read The Sea, John Banville for the fourth time. Currently, I am reading A Journey, Tony Blair. I read Ngugi, Cyprian Ekwensi, Kalu Okpi, Wole Soyinka, Salman Rushdie and J.D. Salinger and E.K. Mickson's Who Kill Lucy and When the Heart Decides.
Any favourite books or authors? Influences?
I am told my work is similar to Ayi Kwei Armah's. I am deeply flattered. I am still trying to find his work. I feel ashamed to say I have never read him. I think John Banville's The Sea, in my opinion, is the best prose I have ever read.
What is your writing style?
I write about the individual confronting the 'stolid barriers of nature.' I like short sentences and concentrated prose. I like the flirtatious flexibility of the English language. I like complex plots. This encourages a complete picture only when entirely read.
How would you describe your stories and your writing?
My stories are poignant. They are those one may have experienced, knows someone who has experienced it or could experience. They are real and human.
Any work in progress and when should we expect your next novel?
I am in the final stage of Harvest of Jenes and in advanced stages of Flames of Will. There are both fascinating stories.
Thank you for your time
The pleasure is mine. Thanks for making time for me. I look forward to talking to you soon. Thanks.