Kwaku Asiedu Benneh (@kabenneh) is a product of adventure; having spent most parts of his early years shuffling in between four West African countries: Ghana, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone and Guinea. It was this uncommon exposure to the varying cultures of not so varied people that first inspired him to write. A graduate of the Mo Issa Writing Workshop. His first book, Becoming And Other Stories, has been touted as the coming of age embodiment of brilliance. Benneh’s short stories have also been published in Larabanga, Kenkey for Ewes, and Waterbirds on a Lakeshore. His short story, Summer School, which appeared in the Anthology Waterbirds on a Lakeshore has been translated into French and Kiswahili. He was selected by the Goethe Institut as an Afro Young Adult author to represent Ghana at the 2019 Ake Arts and Book Festival. He currently lives in Accra, where he splits his time between reading and dreaming of a world with stricter laws.
FFGH: What is your understanding of the term “Ghanaian writer”? Would you call yourself a Ghanaian writer?
KAB: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, in his own reasoning, once insisted that an African writer is that person who writes in an African language. And so, by extension, probably a Ghanaian writer would be a person who writes in a Ghanaian language. But I think it’s no longer just a question of origin, neither is it of content.
I however strongly believe that the term ‘Ghanaian writer’ is not one that many writers would be sufficiently invested in. Probably because of the undertones of the term; the expectation of a single story that sees Africa and all its countries as a harbor for the ills of the world; colonialism, poverty, polygamy, low quality education, and of course- corruption.
I believe it’s a tag most writers want to avoid, we just want to be called that- writers. But life doesn’t give us such luxuries, does it?
FFGH: Nicely put. Tell us a bit about your short story collection, “Becoming and Other Stories”. What did the writing process involve?
KAB: “Becoming” is a collection of fictional stories that explore the ties that bind men, women and children to society; how these ties shape what they deem right or wrong, and how some may break out of these yokes to become new, unconventional beings. It is set in Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the United States, and oh, about a dozen kilometers above the Atlantic Ocean.
Initially, I didn’t intend to have a book published. In the beginning of my writing journey I did what most writers do- I wrote, and I wrote a lot. I tried my hands on different genres and different settings. And I loved it; I soon realized that it was what I cared about. That I was protective of what I wrote, even though there were loads of stories scattered in folders on my laptop. So it wasn’t until I was selected for the maiden Mo Issah writing workshop that I began to look at my writing differently; through a much more sophisticated lens. The workshop ran for five months and on the last day I promised myself that I would prop up my old stories and publish them. Fast forward some months later and I was reading from my own book at the launch.
FFGH: It seems the writing workshop was an important catalyst. That’s wonderful! So, after you were done reworking your old stories, when did you get the confidence to submit your manuscript for publication?
KAB: It had nothing to do with confidence. Urgency, perhaps! Because I felt it was time, and I felt the time that it was, was running out.
FFGH: Ah, a self-imposed deadline! Interesting. Before “Becoming”, some of your early flash fiction stories have been published on our website and your story “Blistered Memory” was published in our “Kenkey for Ewes and Other Stories” anthology. Was flash fiction a form you ever considered writing in
KAB: Truth is, I never knew what flash fiction was until I was told to write flash fiction. It was some years ago when the website was being put up and the community was gaining traction here in Ghana. I have often said that I was fortunate to have been called upon to submit an entry. Because it gave me the initial validity I needed as a writer. To see my words floating on the internet imbibed a certain feeling that was not far from pride, but also carried with it something else- duty. I realized it was my conferred duty to not stop writing, and so I did not. My greatest feat today perhaps is this; that I love what I write about, and that gives me a sense that this is part of what I came here to do.
FFGH: That’s very good to hear. Okay, so looking back at the first story you ever published online, how would you describe the evolution of your writing up to this point?
KAB: Chaotic. A perfect blend of disaster and genius. I have come to know many truths, and I have abandoned them in search of my own path. What has stuck with me though is the micro distance I feel after my story has been published. They are no longer the babies I cradled in my room. I feel elated. But partially elated, because my babies have known other hands; beaten into shape by other hammers, combed by others who do so not from a place of affection, but of professionalism. I always dread sending my work into the publishing mill, because I know what will come out may not wholly be mine anymore. But I do so all the same.
FFGH: What writing project are you currently working on?
KAB: None at the moment. I’ve taken a hiatus to focus and complete a personal development project in the shortest possible time. But who knows? If a story or two creeps up on me and chokes me in the middle of the night, I might just tell it.
FFGH: Do you have any advice for writers struggling to complete writing projects?
KAB: Be yourself. Because the literary world is desperately trying to cull your stories from within you in a way that fits the narrative. They want to tell it what shoes it should wear, what hat fits, what tie matches. But the truth is, the good stories- those that really matter are those that cull the writers from their worlds. They tell us what to do, how to shape them, how to dress them, how to tell them. Don’t write a story simply because you want to get published. Write because your story can no longer hide in the dark corridors of your gut. Because it wants to escape so it can run to the very top of mountain Afadjato, and sing.
FFGH: Any future collaborations or projects you would like to see in the Ghanaian literary space?
KAB: I have always fantasized about the possibility of having what I call the Great Ghanaian Short Stories. A series of anthologies that ensure the preservation of a distinct voice of the most talented contemporary writers we have. I believe we owe it to the next generation of writers to be fierce, to be accomplished, but also to be united. To carve a culture that is woven by a sense of camaraderie.
It is important also to teach the kids of today to love books. That there is an alternative to instant entertainment and motion pictures. That we, growing up; would rush home from school in soiled uniforms and our bags dripping of exercise books, have lunch facing our brothers and sisters, and then we would sneak out together. Sometimes to the neighborhood park to play five aside football matches or ‘small poles’ as we called it. Other times to pick up stones and pelt the reddest aburofo nkatie to the ground, bust open the fruits, gather all the nuts together. And then we would lay our backs against the trunk; chew the nuts and open a book to read. It is important that we show them what we felt while sucked up into a book. The task is daunting, but as writers we can only achieve this together.