Nana Awere Damoah (1975 – ) was born in Accra, Ghana. He holds a Master’s degree in Chemical Engineering from the University of Nottingham, UK, a Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana, as well as a Diploma in Packaging Technology from the Institute of Packaging South Africa. Nana spent all his secondary or high school years at Ghana National College, Cape Coast, Ghana and speaks fondly of growing up in the suburb of Kotobabi, in the Ghanaian capital, where he started his education at the local Providence Preparatory School.
He is the author of two non-fiction books: Through the Gates of Thought (2010) and Excursions in my Mind (2008) and one fiction book (a collection of short stories), Tales from Different Tails (2011). He keeps a personal blog atwww.nanadamoah.com, is the creator and editor of StoryLoomand Ghanamanisms (www.storyloom.wordpress.com and www.ghanamanisms.wordpress.com dedicated to Ghanaian fiction and non-fiction respectively) and is a columnist ofBusiness and Financial Times newspaper.
Under The Neem tree speaks with Nana about writing, Pan-Africanism and his new book.
1-You are not a full-time writer. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing journey? When and why did you start writing?
When I am asked that question, I usually say my creative writing started in the preparatory school when we were asked to write a story with the ending ‘…and they lived happily ever after!’ Then I fast-track to sometime in 1986 in my history class, in secondary school Form 1 in Cape Coast, Ghana, when we were asked by our History Teacher, Mr Peter Anti (he is nicknamed Pierro) who asked us to write a fictional piece entitled ‘A Day in Carthage’. My first poem was written in Sixth form but never was shared with anyone. My first published work, in the national weekly newspaper The Mirror was entitled ‘The Showdown’ and appeared in early 1995. I have not looked back since then and my winning first prize in a national true story writing competition organized by Step Magazine in Ghana was a really boost.
I am an avid reader (one friend says I read indiscriminately!) and usually there is a progression from reader to writer. I have always loved the arts, starting from recital of poems from prep school, through acting in secondary school and in the University and writing of short stories was a way to exercise my creative juices.
2- You are a seasoned writer; “I speak of Ghana” is your fourth book. Since you have experience in publishing books, what would you advise people who want to (self) publish a book one day but are not quite sure where to start?
My advice to young writers has been to draw an analogy with eating an elephant: no sane person attempts to eat an elephant at once; you do it one bite at a time. Start publishing in magazines, in newspapers, on social media (Facebook notes, blogs) and get feedback from your friends. Learn to hone your skills – keep writing. As you evolve, your confidence will increase as well. Read widely and develop your style – don’t be afraid to experiment. I don’t know where I got this lesson from: ‘Learn from the masters, but develop your own voice’. This is on building oneself as a writer.
In terms of self-publishing, it is important to know that self-publishing does not mean shoddy work. I use a professional designer and editor for my books. I assemble a team of proof-readers, usually friends with writing or English literature backgrounds. For most of my works, I first blog or share with friends on Facebook so I get a lot of feedback to correct and improve.
Finally, my mantra in life applies here as well: dream big, start small, move fast. Keep on. I paid for end-to-end publishing services for my first book, going through the drill and learning the rudiments and I applied these lessons and stages for my next two books. I take my books through the usually stages: initial manuscript sent to the editor for review, working on the edits suggested, edited manuscript to book designer for typesetting, editing of first, second and third proofs, proof-reading the first draft print before final printing. Of course, there are iterative steps in between.
I have got better with time and that is how life is, including writing and publishing.
3- While reading this book, I was under the impression that you advocate for the return of the African in the Diaspora, so that they can help build their country. Is that right? What is the rationale behind this idea?
I know! But my advocacy is balanced in that even though I would wish for the return of all, that won’t happen and that is not realistic, for sure. What I advocate for is that wherever you are, think about how to give back to the continent and how to help. We are the ones to till our soil and build the continent, no foreigner can do it as best as we can. I have gotten into a bit of ‘trouble’ with this but I am quite passionate about that. You don’t necessarily have to reside on the continent to do this, but don’t cut your umbilical cord. Support in any way you can.
4- Sometimes, little things that you believe about yourself turn out to be self-fulfilling prophecies. So when you discuss issues such as lateness in Africa or not having a critical mind…I tend to associate those phenomenons to the self-fulfilling prophecy theories. For example, maybe people are late because they believe they are and will always be late. What’s your take on this?
I disagree, respectfully. My view is that people are late because they know they can get away with it. Take this same people out of the environment that condones this negative behaviour to one where promptness is the order of the day and you would be surprised at their transformation! They are late because they know excuses will be tolerated. Indeed, I have worked in Ghana in a company where lateness is a no-no and yet in the same country, it is a canker. It is our responsibility to create the change we desire. For instance, in my little way, I encourage my children to question me and to be critical. This is a departure from how the generations before me and some of my peers were brought up.
5- I am curious to know if you were made president of Ghana tomorrow, what you would do in the first 90 days (lol, we are not in a presidential debate so feel free to include longer project).
Very interesting question! I actually haven’t thought about much about it, especially within a 90 days framework (not that I have intentions of being a President anyway). But I would love to work on the ethics and ways of working. Within each team that I have been privileged to work with and to build, the first tasks I have tackled have been creating the basis for ways of working: professionalism, ethics, integrity, performance culture, keeping to deadlines and promises and building a winning team. If a fish would rot, it starts from the head. Africa’s problems have been with leadership and with the attitudes and actions of leaders being at variance with the reality of the problems they need to solve. Once these are in place, targets can be set and driven aggressively. Focus on the team to do the work, get the right people in place, put in the right culture and drive the change. I may not be very popular after the first 90 days though!
6- Panafricanism is a recurrent theme in “I speak of Ghana”. Do you think we will ever reach that dream? Or is it just a dream, an illusion that can never be reached?
I would define ‘Pan-africanism’ as the belief in Africa and the fact that Africa can be better. As I advocate strongly in my book, it is up to you and I, our generation. “Our generation is the game-changing generation for our country and continent. We cannot join in the chant of our predecessors; we cannot think at the same level, we cannot go at the same pace. We are the generation with the greatest exposure to what better conditions can be like – let’s replicate this [on the continent]. We know what a country that takes action looks like – let’s cut the long talk. We know not just the potential but the actual position this nation can spring to – let’s get working.”
I believe it is a place we can reach. Perhaps not in my lifetime but, as a thinker I admire in Ghana, Pastor Mensa Otabil says, we have to be generational thinkers, thinking ahead to build so the generation after us can pick the baton and continue from where we stopped, not to go back and repair what we destroyed.
5. What did you enjoy most about the writing process?
As I said earlier, I share my articles and stories online as I write them. I enjoy very much the interaction with readers. I also enjoy the thinking process for non-fiction, the creation of characters with their nuances for fiction and for poetry, I love the discipline of compressing myriad thoughts into few words.
6. Should we expect something from you in the future? On the same genre? A different genre?
I have three book ideas I am working on presently. One about my experiences in Nigeria as a Ghanaian professional (Eko Encounters: Wasaman In Amalaman) and the other two about my journey in the corporate world as a young manager and a continuation of the ‘Excursions in my mind’ series. All of these are in the same genre as I Speak of Ghana: basically creative non-fiction. I usually combine three elements of writing in this genre I call ‘reflective writing’: story-telling, poetry and observations about daily life.
7. Do you think something called African literature exists? If yes, how would you define it? What does it represent to you?
I take the simplistic view (is it?) of what is called African literature: any piece of creative writing written by an African or person of African-descent living anywhere in the world. This, for me, has no limits. I generally advocate that we tell our stories. For posterity. For our children’s children to know what we went through and what our dreams were. Works written by Africans from African perspectives for the world to read and appreciate.
8. Would you consider writing in your native language?
Yes. I speak Twi very well and I have been working on my written form. I try to incorporate them in my writing but to write fully in Twi, that would be an uphill task! But I never say never!
9. Who are your favorite African writers?
Chinua Achebe, Kwesi Yankah, Merari Alomele, Kofi Akpabli, Chukwuemeka Ike and (I just discovered him recently) Peter Enaharo.
10. Name two books by African writers that change your life?
Journeys Into Creativity (an anthology of narratives by African writers; I got it as part of my prize in 1997 but unfortunately I have lost my copy and it seems it is out of print. I learnt a lot from those stories).
(Illustration not available)
11. Any advice for aspiring writers?
I repeat the point I made earlier: “Learn from the masters, but develop your own voice”. Keep writing and share your writings for continuous feedback. Either write or read every day. Exercise your creativity every day , even in your Facebook or Twitter updates. Play with words, create.