An Interview With a Talented Nigerian Writer on the Rise
Papatia: Assalamu aleikum Tohib, welcome to Hayati Magazine.
Tohib: Wa aleikum salam Sister Papatia, thank you for having me.
P: Is there a personal story behind the novella Love in Ramadan?
T: (Laughs) Well, yes and no. Many people have asked me the same question, and I always reply that there are elements of personal story in the novella, but overall it is a product of my observations and reflections about the Nigerian Muslim community which I have been involved with since I got to America in 2013.
P: Yea, our characters are little extensions of ourselves combined with the other stuff we call inspiration. Lol. So, you’re a great writer masha’Allah even though I found that some parts could have had a little more twists. What are other authors you read besides the ones you’ve paid tribute to such as Zara J, Umm Zakiyah, and Umm Juwayriyah?
T: I read all genre of fictions, but I have a special love for Muslim fictions; so I read the works of Na’ima Roberts, Jatasha Sharif, Karimah Grayson, F.A Ibrahim. In short, every Muslim fiction author. Once I see a Muslim fiction, I want to read the author’s work. Outside of Muslim fiction, I read, of course, Chinua Achebe works! I also read the works of Teju Cole, Wole Soyinka, Tsitsi Dangaremba, Kate Chopin, Ernest Hemingway, J.D Salinger and others.
P: Very impressive list of authors. Good for you! Reading many other authors help me get new perspectives and ideas alhamdullilah. I’m sure the same goes for many people.
P: Why did you choose the title Love in Ramadan? I mean the story went a way I didn’t expect. But I shouldn’t expect any less of a good Nigerian storyteller like yourself. As a West African myself, I have enjoyed watching Nigerians’ entertaining love and dramatic tales via movies in the past.
T: (Sighs). About the title, I must confess it was a bit an arduous task to choose. Lots of titles came to my head and I was advised to jot them down and seek people’s views on which was best. But to answer the question, I chose the title because both love and Ramadan have a special place in my heart. My spiritual awakening occurred during a month of Ramadan, alhamdulillah. And, as far as love is concerned, I love love. I mean, who doesn’t like love? But honestly, a close reading of the story will note that the main character talks about falling deeply in love during Ramadan.
P: I agree. As I reflected back on the story after I had put it down, it came to me why you chose this title.
P: Any plans to write a full length novel in the future like Naima’s She Wore Red Trainers? I mean there is definitely room here for more halal romantic romance for teenagers and new adults readers with the scope of your writing.
T: Yes, in shaa Allah, there are plans to write full-fledged novels in the future. As you have rightly pointed out, there are rooms for more halal romance even within Love In Ramadan itself, but which I couldn’t get into because of the concise nature I wanted the book to maintain. And here the issue of the twists and conflicts also comes in, I wanted to insert many twists in the story, but because of the specific purpose and the intended readers— the parents and their teenagers—I put myself on a tight word count leash. In shaa Allah, my future novels will have more halal romance.
P: Masha’Allah, may Allah help you realize your dreams and make them mubarak for you. Amiin.
P: I once wanted to be a Pharmacist but that didn’t pan out. I became an Accountant instead. Even that, I also wanted to be a Doctor as some point. As a child, I toyed around with several grown up jobs in my head and those were the top picks haha! Anyways, my change of major made my mother upset who wanted me to become a RN, a nurse. My sister made that dream come true for her so we’re all good lol! Anyways, when I first told a distant niece of my science major she said, “What’s the deal with all Africans migrating here wanted to be Doctor and such?” She was right in a sense even though I thought she had no real ambitions. But she also found her way after wanting to be a dancer, then a nurse, etc. Above all, I’m glad your story relates the struggles of first and second generation Africans in America.
T: Every African at some point of his or her life wanted to become a Doctor! (Laughs) I wanted to become a doctor when I was young but mathematics proved a deterrence. Well, as a writer, it brings me joy that what I wrote mirrors the realities on ground. Otherwise, I would be like a writer living in the twilight zone; and no one wants that! (Laughs). Like I said earlier on, the novella is based on my interaction with Nigerian American Muslims and African immigrant students in general so these are the issues that come up. As to the reason why African parents want their children to become doctors, engineers and all such, I think they have been socially conditioned right from back homes that these types of professions are the only lucrative ones and the ones which command respect from people. And as you might be aware, African parents like to brag about the achievements and professions of their children amongst themselves. Also, there is a tendency for parents to live their unfulfilled dreams through their children. So we have all these issues in the background.
P: Oh they love to brag! And true, these jobs have always been a sign of social stability in foreigner parents’ heads. And many tend to live their dreams through their children by imposing certain majors on them. That said, these days many African parents are more open to the idea of sports when they see players like Eto’o fils, Didier Drogba, the Touré brothers and all making it on unconventional careers like soccer.
P: You have some snarky and smooth jokes in the novella. I puffed in laughter a lot of times. There is also the subtle romance I appreciated between the pages. And finally the small traces of dawah that weren’t preachy at all. So good job my brother, masha’Allah. You’re very crafty with words. Your story had a lot depth. I should have asked this first. When did you take interest in writing?
T: Alhamdulillah. I’m happy you like the story. My journey to writing started right from my high school days when I realized I like to tell stories. I found out I like to imagine things and make up stories which isn’t real. But I really took, if you’d like, an official interest in writing after I began to read books a lot. You know, when you read, read and read stories, you start to see stories too and you want to write them down. And once I realized that when there’s an absence of story from within a group of people, people without will write their stories. And that I couldn’t allow. So I took interest in writing.
P: Me too. I have a vivid imagination. Having said that, all my stories start with the inspiration I received around me. Alhamdullilah.
P: Thank you brother for being with us. The team at Hayati Magazine and I wish you all the best in your future endeavors, amiin! Please share your social network links where readers can find out more about you and follow you insha’Allah. Masalam.
T: Thank you for having me! It’s really a pleasure. Readers can find me by searching “Tohib Adejumo” on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/toyeeb.aladejumo . And my short stories can be found on: https://tohibadejumo.wordpress.com/