Saturday, September 18, 2010

[Interview] Nana Awere Damoah

Nana Awere Damoah is a Ghanaian Chevening alumnus who studied in Ghana and in the United Kingdom.

He keeps a blog of his articles at Excursions in my Mind.

So far, he has written and published two books, Through the Gates of Thought (Athena Press, 2010) and Excursions in my Mind (Athena Press, 2008).

His short stories have been featured in Ghanaian newspapers and magazines that include The Mirror and The Spectator as well as in the anthology, African Roar (Lion Press Ltd, 2010).

In this interview, Nana Awere Damoah talks about his writing:

When did you start writing?

My very first article, published in Through the Gates of Thought, was written in 1993 -- so I trace my writing life to that year. I was 18 years old then. But my appreciation of the literary form and my involvement in things literary actually started much earlier, in preparatory school, in the early 1980s 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 published in Through the Gates of Thought.

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 them 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 my first blog, Excursions in My Mind.

After a while, friends who received my Empower series started encouraging me to publish a compilation for a wider audience. That was around 2005 whilst I was studying for my Masters in the UK.

I did a compilation and seriously started looking for options, whilst still writing the articles and sharing them online. On my way to Ghana, after a business meeting in Israel, I saw an advert in the Economist by my publisher and I decided to submit my manuscript.

That was in November 2007.

My first book was published in October 2008.

How would you describe your writing?

I write fiction, non-fiction, and poems.

I like to refer to my non-fiction 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.

Who is your target audience?

I write with young adults in mind, mostly.

I have, however, had middle-aged readers react very well to the books, because I believe the lessons adduced in the writings are universal -- across ages, cultures and social classes.

We practise oral tradition in most African cultures, where the thoughts, ideals and knowledge of the family, tribe or clan are transmitted from one generation to the other without a writing system. However, this system is flawed in the sense that a lot of African innovation, experience and culture have been lost.

I think of my descendants ... two, three or four generations from now; I think of my children ... 40, 50 years from now; I try to remember the stories my dad shared with me about his life’s experiences. Will my descendants know what I am going through today, what my wishes were for my generation and for them? Can the lessons I have picked up from the varied peregrinations in my life be crystallised for eternity, for the benefit of those yet unborn?

My attempt to answer these questions gave birth to my Empower series of articles, which form the materials for both Excursions in my Mind and Through the Gates of Thought.

In the writing you are doing, which authors influenced you most?

In terms of how I write in my Empower series which form the material for my two books -- Through the Gates of Thought and Excursions in my Mind -- Dale Carnegie has been a great influence on my style and the simple approach in my writing.

In terms of my works of fiction and drawing on my culture, Chinua Achebe has had a strong impact on me, and his book Things Fall Apart is an all-time favorite.

I look to the Bible (David, Solomon) for inspiration for my poetry.

I am, however, a voracious and indiscriminate reader and have been influenced by numerous writers of varied styles and genres. For instance, in my teenage years, I read a lot of fairy tales translated from Russian!

How have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

As indicated above, I draw lessons from my personal experiences, and also from what I read and hear.

I see myself as a distillation plant, that takes issues around me -- mundane, routine everyday occurrences -- as my raw material; then reflects on and processes them, producing various fractions, fit for use by my readers.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

In sharing thoughts 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.

Thus, in my books, 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.

In my works of fiction, the main aim is to project African culture and folklore, which is where I am researching more and more these days. I am in love with our traditional sayings and proverbs and seek to incorporate them more in my stories. This is evident in my story, "Truth Floats", which appears in African Roar.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

Being able to juggle my full time job with Unilever in Ghana (I am presently the Research and Development Technical Manager), my family and social responsibilities, and my passion for writing!

Seeing my writing as an extension of my Christian ministry, as the main vehicle and medium for me to impact my generation and beyond, helps to keep me focused. Because I see it as such, I invest and make time for writing, knowing and believing that through this talent, I can be significant. My wife has been quite supportive in this endeavor, giving me room to indulge in my literary passion and ministry.

Do you write everyday?

My principle is to write, think about my ideas or read daily. At least two hours a day. When I write, it is usually at dawn: when the world is asleep, my thoughts are clearer.

Usually I would have the idea in my mind, and would ruminate on it for some time. It took me three years to write one particular article; some articles take me a week from inception to finish.

I sit behind the PC and just write, once I have the flow in my mind. Then I do my edits, and do further research for quotes etc to enrich the scripts.

I never send out the first draft -- one rule of mine is to let the sun go down on my writing.

I write in chunks -- a chapter at a time. For my books, I circulate the articles, chapter by chapter first and get more inputs/feedback from my online readers and friends, to help enhance the final product.

How many books have you written so far?

I have two non-fiction books:

Through the Gates of Thought (Athena Press, April 2010) and Excursions in My Mind (Athena Press, October 2008).

I have also contributed to one anthology, African Roar (StoryTime, June 2010).

How did you chose a publisher for your latest book?

My latest book, Through the Gates of Thought, took about two years to complete.

It is an eclectic collection of stories, articles, poems, which touch various aspects of everyday life. I write about everyday events, common thoughts, normal issues -- but in a style that distills the key essence of life's lessons.

The stories will cause you to pause and think, think and reflect, reflect and take action -- an action for a positive change. Through these, I seek to affect my society, community, continent, world -- one mind at a time.

Through the Gates of Thought was published in April 2010, in the UK and USA. Athena Press published my first book and I stuck with them. I am happy so far with their professionalism, the thoroughness of the publishing process and the quality of the finished product.

Which were the most difficult aspects of the work you put into Through the Gates of Thought?

None, really.

Perhaps making the time to complete within my targeted schedule.

I enjoyed the interaction with readers online as I blogged the various chapters. And to hear the impact it had had on people.

Finally, the opportunity to mentor young readers who write to me to advise on their own writing, and other aspects of life -- it makes writing worthwhile and is in line with my vision to affect lives.

What sets  Through the Gates of Thought apart from other things you've written?

The interesting bit about my books is that each chapter is a standalone, unique in the lessons and thrust. So Through the Gates of Thought is as unique as the number of chapters it contains!

Personally, I see maturity in this second book as well. I keep reading the chapters again and again, as I go through similar situations.

In what way is it similar to the others?

The similarity comes with the simplicity of the topics intertwined with the power of déjà vu: stories that remind you of your own experiences, lessons of everyday life served with a different perspective, making you look at your experiences again -- resulting in new learning, all your own.

What will your next book be about?

I am already in chapter four of the next book. I am yet to find a title for it!

Its focus is more inspirational and aims to provoke the new generation of Africans, especially, to be the game-changing generation for our continent.

A long-intended project is to write a novel about the legendary spider in Ghanaian folklore.

I am also doing a compilation of my poems for publication soon -- we live to see which of these three books will out first!

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Can I give two?

First, winning the first prize in the Step Magazine National Story Writing Competition in 1997, which led to my story being published as part of an anthology.

Second, getting published, with my name on the cover of two books!

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5 comments:

David Miller said...

This interview was a very interesting read which gave an insight into the life and the writing style of Nana Awere Damoah, I will try to grab a copy of one of his book.

Anonymous said...

Reading through the interview, I feel the sincerity of Nana throughout. I wish him and his family well. On his books, I have bought both books and read several chapters in each one. As the chapters are standalone each can be read out of sequence and enjoyed, so that even if one is not so keen on books, one will still find it easier to read and enjoyed!! I would strongly recommend that everyone buy or borrow and read at least one of Nana's books and work through the actions at the end. Stay Blessed, Nana.

Mensah S. said...

A very good interview. I am yet to pick up my copies. I am sure there will be a lot in there for me. Most inspiring. Mensah S. Lashibi.

Nana Awere Damoah said...

Many thanks David, Akosua (aka Anonymous) and Mensah, thanks for the feedback!

uche peter umez said...

enjoyed and motivated me to keep writing, thanks for sharing, Nana