Ivana Akotowaa Ofori (@_Akotowaa ) is a Ghanaian storyteller. Self-styled as “The Spider Kid”, she is a weaver of words in many forms, including fiction, non-fiction and spoken-word poetry. She has been longlisted twice for the Writivism Prize, first for nonfiction and second for fiction. Some of her work appears in the Flash Fiction Ghana anthology, Kenkey for Ewes and Other Very Short Stories. When she is not reading or writing, she is likely to be raving online and in person about frustrations with school and life, or about her great love for the color purple.
FFGH: You have a number of published works, amongst other things a self-published novella. Tell us about the experience of completing the novella?
IAO: If the novella in question is Puppets, which I think I published online in 2016, the truth is that I hardly remember it. I was an emotional volcano four years ago, and many of my memories are (perhaps intentionally) lost in the haze of that rage. I did release a novelette near the end of 2017 called If I Could Kill My Feelings… which I remember a little better. It’s too short to deserve the title of novella, but the process of writing it was certainly long enough. It’s only 12K words, but I didn’t finish it until 8 months after I started it.
I remember being excited when it finally started taking the shape I wanted, because it was, at the time, my boldest venture into the worlds of futurism and science fiction. The possibilities were exciting for me–as was my personal attempt to infuse the trials of menstruation into the kind of genre that I believed generally avoided such carnal affairs. Nothing, however, beat the elation I felt when my favorite illustrator, Kaz, presented me with what he’d come up with for the cover. There are several things I would change if I could redo that story, but at the time, it was Kaz’s cover that really made the work feel finished and worth it.
FFGH: Anyone familiar with Ghanaian names would nod at “Akotowaa”. Would you consider yourself a Ghanaian writer, and what does that mean for you, really?
IAO: I am a Ghanaian person who writes, so I certainly hope I can be considered a Ghanaian writer. I’m not sure what it means, but I don’t know that anyone really does. Labels of this sort tend to be very fluid, and since I like to embrace ambiguity, I don’t have much of a problem with it. I do take pride that my name is easily recognizable as Ghanaian, though. I enjoy the flash of recognition I tend to get when I’m abroad.
FFGH: Looking back at the first story you ever published online, what are your thoughts on your writing now?
IAO: Truthfully, I don’t remember which was the first story I ever published online. I probably deleted it a long time ago. What I do remember from that season of my life, maybe 7 or 8 years ago, is that I really loved making myself and others laugh. I parodied everything from horror movies to Disney fairytales, in very straightforward and blunt ways. I think, these days, I’m much more interested in creating complex storylines. It makes my writing process so much slower and the material itself so much longer.
FFGH: That sounds like painful but rewarding work. Kudos! We have noticed your foray into fantasy. Recently, your story “Principles of Balance” was shortlisted for the Nommo 2020. Congratulations! How have you worked on developing your writing into different genres and themes?
IAO: Thank you! I’ve loved fantasy since I was a child. Starting to write it was a nearly natural consequence of reading so much of it and enjoying what I read. While I do tend to like the speculative books that I read more than other genres, I read anything of any genre that catches my eye.
And so I’m not sure that I have consciously tried to develop my writing into different genres. I like to believe that in my writing process, the story comes before the genre, and not vice versa. So when I think up a storyline, the debate on whether or not to use magical elements is dependent on if it will fit the story itself. I have a hard time determining these things on my own, so what I will usually do is call a friend and talk about crazy possibilities until we find the one that might fit most appropriately with the plot. If the story just so happens to end up within a genre I may not have written before, I’d consider it a happy accident. I like the idea of versatility almost as much as I like the idea of ambiguity.
FFGH: We love the idea of the story sometimes being a collaborative exercise for you. Awesome! So, was flash fiction a form you ever considered writing in?
IAO: Frankly, the only reason I did consider writing flash fiction, and why I took the next step and actually wrote it, is because Flash Fiction Ghana was really popping. It seemed to me like everyone–including myself–wanted to be part of it. And that is what inspired me to try writing it. Being featured by Flash Fiction Ghana felt like you’d made it in life. Fridays were genuinely anticipated, because of the chance you would see a familiar name as the latest author published on the FFG blog.
But I think flash fiction is a delicate art. There is a special balance of sharpness, conciseness and excitement that comprises the best flash fiction stories I have ever read. It is a skill very hard to achieve without serious cultivation, and I don’t think I have ever put that much effort into learning how to develop it. On the contrary, my stories only ever seem to get longer and longer! It’s part of the reason why lately, it takes so long before I release anything new.
FFGH: We appreciate that pat on our backs, thank you! What books are you currently reading?
IAO: I have just finished Eva Luna by Isabel Allende, and I’m slowly re-reading The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. I’m also in the middle of the short story collection How to Love A Jamaican by Alexia Arthurs and I’m planning to read The Astonishing Color of After by Emily X.R. Pan, as soon as possible.
FFGH: What writing project(s) are you currently working on?
IAO: I’m currently working on a short story trilogy that is a spin-off of a series I put out in 2017. The original series was a contemporary remix of Kwaku Ananse legends, and this spin-off I’m working on focuses more on the folkloric personality of Okonore Yaa.
Since my spider-brain can’t work on only one thing at a time, I am also working on yet another short story trilogy that is a remix of the epic of Sundiata. Everything always takes longer than I think it will, so who’s to say when these things will be ready for the public eye? Not me, certainly.
FFGH: Wow, those are interesting projects. Looking forward to when they are finished! Do you have any advice for writers struggling to complete writing projects?
IAO: Learn how your brain works, by any means necessary. Maybe your brain works by focusing on one thing at a time. Maybe you are most productive and less likely to get bored when you switch haphazardly between projects. Maybe you need a keyboard in front of you. Maybe you need a pen. Maybe you need a pen beside your keyboard and to keep switching between them. Morning person? Night person? Solitude person? Writing group person? Write every day kind of person? Write twice a week kind of person? I don’t think there is one formula to fit all creative brains, so finding out how your particular brain works is key. If you struggle to complete writing projects, you may be trying to follow some pattern that’s right for some other kind of writer but very wrong for you.
FFGH: Any future collaboration or projects you would like to see in the Ghanaian literary space?
IAO: Goodness gracious, there are so many! I would like to see a serialized radio drama scripted out by a talented writer and acted out by even an amateur cast, if need be. I would love to see some amazing books developed into television series. If some wonderful screenwriter would like to adapt Boakyewaa Glover’s The Justice into a screenplay, it might just make my life. I would love to see local illustrators and graphic designers collaborating with authors at least as often as they collaborate with musicians for cover art and such. There is so much mind-blowing creative talent in Ghana. With the right infrastructure, the possibilities could be endless.