When I recently discovered the books of Atinuke it was one of those bright moments you hold on to; it’s not every day you stumble on treasure that touches your heart, treasure that you want to share with everyone you meet.
And so it is with great pleasure that today I can bring you the first part of an interview I recently did with Atinuke, author behind the Anna Hibiscus and the No. 1 Car Spotter stories.
Playing by the book: Thank you Atinuke for sharing your time with me and my readers on Playing by the book. I’m really delighted to get a chance to spread the word about your great books!
So for my first question I wanted to ask you about storytelling – you are an oral storyteller as well as a written author. Do you create the stories you tell eg Tipingee, Monkey and Shark, or are they traditional stories you grew up with?
Atinuke: The stories I tell are all traditional oral stories from Africa and the African Diaspora. I am especially fond of Haitian tales. These stories are all centuries old – tried and tested by generation after generation of storytellers and story lovers. I love the fact that they have not needed the written word to survive.
Playing by the book: What are the differences for you between oral and written storytelling? What aspects of each do you enjoy the most?
Atinuke: Written storytelling is the play of one person’s mind and heart and imagination. I love making up stories, playing and playing with them, and then sharing them in my books. Oral storytelling is sharing a story that has been “worked” on by centuries of storytellers. I love the fact that when I get up on stage to tell stories I am telling a story that humans have been telling to each other for centuries, that has been proved to be important. I don’t have to worry if the story is any good! I also love the fact that each audience brings out different aspects of each story though its responses. A story is never told the same way twice, because the audience is never the same twice.
Playing by the book: Why did you choose “Africa” (rather than a specific African country/town/location) as the setting for No 1 and Anna Hibiscus?
Atinuke: I chose Africa because I did not want to write specifically about Nigeria [Atinuke’s country of birth]. I wanted to inhabit a more fictional world. And for people to know that Anna’s happy middle class world exists all over Africa.
Playing by the book: You’ve said “I wrote about what I was missing… I wrote Anna Hibiscus” – to what extent are your Anna stories autobiographical?
Atinuke: I grew up in the same urban, middle class, modern Africa as I set Anna Hibiscus. Other than that it is all fictional!
Playing by the book: I also read that you “love to whirl like Rumi” – what music do you like to whirl to? Do you use music in your storytelling?
Atinuke: Whirling is like meditation for me, and when I do it I do it in silence. When I am storytelling I occasionally work with a extraordinary percussionist called Joe Caswell.
Atinuke: There are more stories about Anna Hibiscus and The No.1 Car Spotter coming. And I have a few other things up my sleeves – but it could take a while for them to emerge!
Playing by the book: What African, and specifically Nigerian authors (for adults or children) could you recommend to me and my readers?
They are all incredible Nigerian authors putting our rich diverse controversial national cultures on the page. Love it!
Playing by the book: Additionally, a couple of my blog readers have asked me if I could put their questions to you. First, have you any plans to visit New York?
Atinuke: I would love to visit New York, but no plans as yet!
Playing by the book: Secondly, what is Anna Hibiscus’s favourite colour? (One of my blog readers has a 6 year old daughter who loves the Anna Hibiscus books and is keen to know this; she wrote this letter – reproduced with permission – for Anna)
Atinuke:Thank you for your lovely, lovely letter to Anna Hibiscus. Anna’s favourite colour is bright deep pink!
Thank you for this opportunity, Playing by the book.
Playing by the book: Thank you, Atinuke!
Do come back tomorrow for the second part of my interview with Atinuke, where she talks about the books which have influenced her journey as an author.
And if you can’t wait till tomorrow, here are some lovely videos featuring Atinuke: