Aminatta: Hmm, no one person or thing. I had a teacher at school who told me I ‘had the gift of words’ and I certainly enjoyed writing stories at school. I think my real motivation came (and comes) from encountering people, listening to them talk about their lives and thinking: here is a story that has never been told.
W4A: As a tutor of ‘Creative Writing’, would you say writing is for anyone be-it fiction or non-fiction?
Aminatta: No, not everyone can or needs to write. Frankly, reading is as important. To be a writer isn’t about choosing which form works for you, most writers move between forms, it’s really about wanting to be locked alone in a room for the rest of your life, usually with people who don’t exist. I teach a lot of people who have some talent, sometimes a lot of talent, but as with everything talent is only part of the story, discipline and stamina are essential.
W4A: Does Africa influence any of or part of your writings? If so in what way?
Aminatta: My three books: two novels and a memoir are set there. I write about people who happen to live in Africa, specifically Sierra Leone. I think Africa and places outside the West in general: the subcontinent, China, South America, are where the big themes are to be found, they are where the greatest challenges to the human spirit exist.
W4A: Apart from writing, we are also aware that you are actively engaged in a number of projects in Sierra Leone. Tell us a bit about what it is you are currently doing?
Aminatta: The school I founded in my family village of Rogbonko is coming up to its 10th anniversary, which seems astonishing to me. Our success has been due to the hard work and dedication of the people. We have also run anti-malarial projects, sanitation (fresh water and latrines). This year we hope to open a small maternal health facility for the village; Sierra Leone has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the world. The building has been erected. We’ll be equipping it and sending in a health worker next.
W4A: To any woman who is aspiring to become a writer, what is the most important piece of advice you would give her?
Aminatta: Put everything else second. Forget being a multi-tasking, job juggling superwoman.
W4A: Tell us one thing about Africa you love?
Aminatta: The smell of the earth.
Thank you for granting W4A this interview
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