Pemi Aguda recently won the 2015 Writivism Short Story Prize, with her humorously dark tale, "Caterer, Caterer", yet she isn't unknown on the African writing scene. She is published in several literary mags, took part in the 2011 Farafina Trust Workshop and in last year's Caine Prize Short Story Surgery. Tiah interrupted her busy schedule to beg five questions.
Tiah: What have you learned over the years that has helped your writing grow?
Pemi: To keep reading. And write, despite the convenient excuse of 'life'. To keep my eyes wide in this nuanced world - that a five minute walk holds a million stories.
More technically, I've learned to trust the reader; to trim trim trim. And I now understand the importance of other eyes, of reviews and a thousand revisions, before sending anything out.
Tiah: When creating a story, do you start with a character or line and then discover the story as your write along? Or do draw up outlines and character profiles before penning the first line?
Pemi: It could go either way. There are times a character makes such an impression on me that a story is borne out of it. But mostly, I have an idea of the story’s trajectory – it becomes clearer after I start writing. I don't usually do outlines; but as story ideas become more complex, I understand that this is something I have to start doing.
Tiah: How does your training and work as an architect feed into your writing?
Pemi: Haha! This is by far the most popular question - I'm working on a staple answer. They are both creative fields – so in that, the process is similar. There's an idea. There's chipping at the idea until some semblance of sense is made. Then there's execution. while making sure the finished product is structurally fit to stand on its own – so it doesn't fall on its own head, or mine.
Tiah: Tell me about your blog, Nik-Nak.
Pemi: Ah, Nik-Nak is my happy place. Kovie Parker and I run that together. Simply, it's a space we share all the rad things we come across. From art to film to photography to books, and all the other random stuff. We're attracted to things that aren't necessarily mainstream - loads of artisan brands, so it's also a way to give these people and ideas a wider audience.
Tiah: Lastly, what question do you wish I'd asked? Please answer it.
Pemi: Maybe who my favourite short story writers are? To which I’d reply Lorrie Moore – for breaking all the rules and putting life experiences in the most unlikely words; also Haruki Murakami – because I also wonder what is real and isn’t, and delight in the surreal; and then Chuma Nwokolo – for the humorous depiction of a Nigeria I’m familiar with.
On Pemi's Bedside Table
I’ve just finished The House My Father Built by Adewale Maja-Pearce which is a great light read. I'm currently alternating between the Africa 39 anthology and Roald Dahl's Tales of the Unexpected because one never tires of the classics.
‘Pemi Aguda writes short stories and flash fiction. Her stories have appeared in The Kalahari Review, Black Fox Literary Magazine, Prufrock Magazine, The Wrong Quarterly and the TNC anthology These Words Expose Us among others. Her short story “Caterer, Caterer” won the 2015 Writivism Short Story Prize 2015; published in Munyori Journal and the Roses for Betty anthology.