I’m Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀, a Nigerian
writer. I was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and shortly after that my family moved to a city
called Ilesa where most of my novel, Stay With Me, is set. Stay With Me is about a marriage;
it’s about Akin and Yejide, who have been married for five years and don’t have any
children. Now when they got married they were very much in love, but at the point where
the novel begins they’ve come under so much pressure that love doesn’t seem to be the
primary thing any more to either of them. They both feel for different reasons that
they must have children, and the choices that they make in order to do that — Akin decides
to marry another wife, even though he doesn’t love her, doesn’t really want a second wife,
but feels that it’s going to reduce the pressure that his mother is putting on the marriage.
There’s an expression that we have among the Yoruba, among the Ijesha, which in the dedication
I wrote to my sister — it’s ‘O ra nukan ro’ which is ‘You won’t stand alone’.
And family is taught to be very sacred, and your loyalty to members of your family, people
with whom you share blood, is very important to many people — so that, for someone like
Yejide in the novel, who grows up feeling that she doesn’t really have a family — even
though she has step-siblings and stepmothers, she doesn’t quite have a mother, she doesn’t
have siblings — that gap is such a huge thing that propels her to want to build her
own family and have this thing that she believes is so essential to being a human being. The
interesting thing that I find the more I read about Nigerian history, Yoruba history in
particular, is that in pre-colonial times women occupied literally every possible position
in society. So religion, in Yoruba traditional religions, you had women as priestesses; in
royalty you had women in the council of Obas for instance. After colonialism quite a bit
of that changed, because we then began to adopt Victorian values — and some years
after that people started claiming that that was what was African. It’s a mix of both now,
I think, that career-wise in Southwest Nigeria it’s a given; it’s not something that is negotiated
or is argued about that a woman would have financial independence. The issue might arise
if she becomes, in quotes, ‘too successful’ and then people wonder, ‘OK, is she going
to get married, what is that going to be about,’ and I think that it still speaks to the tendency
to think that a woman’s existence is not valid unless she is married, or she has children.
So it’s a very complex — in many ways, many — most Nigerian women are very strong, very
accomplished and very ambitious and driven, and on the other side there are all these
cultural perceptions that sort of attempt to limit how far many women can go and how
they can be in the world. Being published, it still feels very surreal, because it’s
a story that I’ve carried with me for quite a long time; almost a decade now. So it feels
strange to hear other people talk about it, it — that’s the way it feels right now.
And getting longlisted for the Baileys prize… quite frankly I’m still stunned, just totally
and absolutely in shock, to see my name alongside so many authors whose work I admire and have
thoroughly enjoyed. It’s quite an honour. Shocked. Yeah.