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Vol.3. No. 2. January 2010





Andrew Campbell-Kearsey
Claire Godden-Rowland
Dike Okoro
Dominic James
Emmanuel Sigauke
Mandy Pannett
Noel Williams
N Quentin Woolf
Olu Oguibe
Paul Jeffcutt
Sharma Taylor
Susanna Roxman
W Jack Savage





Dike Okoro in conversation with Novelist,

Benjamin Kwakye


Benjamin Kwakye was born in Accra, Ghana.  He has published two novels, The Clothes of Nakedness and The Sun by Night, both of which won regional Commonwealth Writers Prizes for literary excellence.  The Clothes of Nakedness has also been adapted for radio by the BBC as a Play of the Week.  He has worked as Resident Novelist for Window to Africa Radio.  He holds degrees from Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School and currently works as legal counsel in the Chicago area. 

What inspired you to take up writing?


I think it was a process that built up over the years until it got to a point where I felt I had to write.  It goes back to my primary school days when I was surrounded by books at home and strongly encouraged by my parents to read and write.  Under their encouragement, I devoured a lot of story books and developed a hunger for reading.  In those days, most of what I read came from abroad, mostly the UK.  Then the introduction to leading African writers in my secondary school days added another dimension.  Here were people who looked like me writing material with which I could easily identify.  In hindsight, I think that was an indirect invitation and encouragement to write.  If they could do it, perhaps so could I.  With time, I felt that I could add my voice to the growing corpus of literature from the African continent. 


People frequently associate contemporary Ghanaian fiction writing with the likes Ama Ata Aidoo and Ayi Kwei Armah. Were these writers influential to you while you were in the early stages of your craft?


Without question.  Even before I started writing, I was reading Armah, Aidoo, Okai, Awoonor, and other Ghanaian writers.  They paved the way for me in the sense that they showed that it could be done.  Many of these writers continue to inspire me, and those that I have met personally have been very encouraging and supportive.


Could you tell us a bit about the process involved in the writing of your first two novels?


The urge to actually write a novel had been with me for a while, but for one reason or another I just couldn’t get myself to do it, although I had started and abandoned a novel when I was much younger.  I was probably about thirteen at the time and perhaps this failure haunted me.  After law school, I felt I needed to exorcise this failure and procrastination.  I wrote The Clothes of Nakedness in my first year as a lawyer, when I was working for a law firm in Columbus, Ohio.  I started with an outline no longer than two pages although, because I had been thinking about it for a while, I had a lot more detail in my mind.  Once I started writing, I realized that some of the characters did not necessarily fit the designs I had for them.  I had to let them tell the story, so to speak.  I would spend mornings, evenings, and weekends writing.  It was challenging, but I was determined to complete the work.  It took me about a year to complete the first draft.  I then spent about another year or so revising it.  The Sun by Night was written under very similar circumstances although, having finished the first novel, I had more confidence that I could complete this one. 


Most contemporary African novelists seem to be concerned with exploring themes that center on conflicts arising from social realism, exile, male-female relationships, post colonialism, etc. Could you share with us some of the themes you generally explore in your novels? And why are these themes important to you as a writer?


I daresay that many writers all over the world write about experiences or issues that impact them or their loved ones.  They explore issues that are important to them.  I don’t think African writers are any different.  At the risk of simplification, my novels so far have been concerned with the issues you mention within the context of the underprivileged and the disenfranchised.  They have sought to explore some of the injustices and challenges prevalent in many African countries.  These are issues that I confronted as a boy growing up in Ghana.  Because I lived them, they are of special importance to me.


Where do your stories come from?


I think my experiences and observations inform my writing.  Beyond that, I don’t have a clue.  I want to avoid the cliché that the stories find the writer, but it may actually be true. 


Where was The Sun by Night written? What kind of personal exploration did you undertake to produce such a memorable and provocative tale?


I started writing The Sun by Night in Columbus, Ohio.  It must have been around 1997.  I finished writing it a couple of years later when I had moved to the Chicago area.  I delved into some of my experiences and observations of a traumatic period in Ghana’s history, a period marked by violence and bloodshed.  I tried also to set this within the framework of the challenges of an African country engaged in the arduous task of nation-building at a time when its traditions, good or bad, are under the onslaught of so-called modernism.  These are issues that confront the African at a micro and macro level. Since I was living in the US at the time the novel was written, and I hadn’t been to Ghana in a while, I had to mine my memory very deeply.  Perhaps that also allowed for a dose of healthy detachment. 


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