"Diaspora: Return to Africa", Author Interview & Book Giveaway!
Happy New Year my dear readers! I hope your 2018 is off to a happy and healthy start! If you've been following along with the blog you know that I was supposed to complete a 50 book challenge last year that fell by the wayside. In the spirit of following through with the goals I have laid out for myself this year, I am trying not to beat myself up too much for it, but I do also want to follow through on goals I set for myself. I am planning to continue the challenge this year, and I hope you will join me in recommitting to goals that maybe you weren't able to finish in the past.
One book that captured my attention, even though it wasn't part of my challenge, was "Diaspora: Return to Africa," the first volume in a series by first-time author K.A. Gendo. The novel follows Imara, a twenty-something, of Kenyan origin who struggles with aligning her third culture identity. Having lived in the U.S. for several years, she decides to move back to Kenya hoping to gain more insight into herself. However, the return proves to be emotionally challenging. K.A. explores many heavy themes, identity formation, mental health and illness, gender inequality, the cultural remnants of colonialism in her powerful storytelling. I was able to speak with K.A. about the novel and what she hopes readers will gain from the series.
How did you begin writing? Did you intend to become an author, or do you have a specific reason or reasons for writing?
I’m the biggest introvert, and I’ve always found it easier to communicate through writing. I think the appeal is the edit—the fact that you have this opportunity to walk away and come back to it before it’s published when you’ve had time to love less or laugh more and feel something entirely different from what was felt when you started to write the piece or chapter. I think if you are still married to the words after you’ve had time away from them, then they encompass some truth you’ve chosen to confront—be it yours or someone else’s.
What authors do you like to read? What book or books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
My favorite books in no particular order are Bryan Stevenson’s ‘Just Mercy,’ Barack Obama’s ‘Dreams from My Father,’ Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom.’ I think all these men suffered certain identity crises that contributed something incredible to what good they have done. One of my favorite fiction narratives is Laura Esquivel’s ‘Like Water for Chocolate.’ I remember feeling the earth shake when I read it many years ago. Long live the feminist appetite.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
“An autobiography can distort… but fiction never lies. It reveals the writer totally.”—V.S. Naipaul. As this quote suggests, I personally believe fiction is drawn from reality. I have found that even when I’ve tried to divorce my experiences or interactions in order to tell a story, I am subconsciously compelled to write only because these very things exist. The range of emotions exhibited and encounters we are subjected to as human beings have the capacity to translate into entertaining stories. That said and much to my dismay, my plots and characters are a combination of the versions of reality I have known or been near enough to comment upon.
Give us an insight into your main character Imara. What does she do that is so special?
Imara is, in my opinion, a modern mess. She is convinced that marriage entered into without a reigning theme of financial equality is a patriarchal trap. So she tentatively abandons a good black man in search of her own identity and independence—something I think she begins to regret because it seems her body, her mind, and her senses have recorded him in his worth, and this record is on a loop throughout this book. I say ‘modern’ because she craves the stuff of feminists and strong women, and ‘mess’ because she doesn’t seem to have anything figured out. She is self-deprecating and has a history of mental illness that begins to consume her when she moves to Africa and before long she is back to some of her childhood bad habits, exacerbated by her inability to fit into what should be her home but unfortunately feels most foreign. I don’t like the word ‘special’ in this context because I think it is too obscure. I would say what I hope is that Imara is relatable as a young individual going through a painful identity crisis.
What genre are your books?
I think ‘Diaspora: Return to Africa’ is more so Magical Realism than anything else, but I understand this is a genre that has often been cited erroneously because it is not so well understood. In this case, I guess it would fall into the Supernatural Fiction genre or perhaps even Urban Fantasy.
What was your hardest scene to write?
Anything sexual. Sex and sexuality are quite easily cheapened by bad writing, and as the writer, it’s difficult to gauge what might be the perfect amount of description or dialogue because the absence of mystery denies me access to effect. I guess the rules I tried to obey here are that it can’t be gratuitous but it also can’t be absent completely so that it dismisses actual human sexual expression reflected by our times.
What is the most difficult part of your artistic process?
Beginning—It. Is. Hell.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
If I had to pick, I’d say one of my favorite parts is Hosea’s ‘ode to black women’ if you will (Chapter 21). Black women—especially dark women—are in my opinion, often vilified, misrepresented or absent in literature.
Is there a message in your novel that you hope readers will grasp?
I think what is most beautiful about the written word is that it is subject to interpretation. Once someone has released something for public scrutiny, other people are at liberty to derive from it what they see fit, without the permission of the author. I hope it is to whoever reads it whatever they allow it to be.
Diaspora left readers with a cliffhanger, when can we expect the next book in the series?
Next year hopefully around the same time as ‘Return to Africa’ was released.
If you could tell your younger self any advice about writing, what would it be?
“Courage, dear heart.”—C.S. Lewis
Other Places where you can connect with K.A. Gendo
You can also download the novel for just 99¢ until January 31st on Amazon Kindle!
I hope you've enjoyed this interview! Even if you aren't big into magical realism/science fiction, you should still check out "Diaspora: Return to Africa," for the incredible storytelling and adventure! To encourage my readers to check out the book and work towards the common goal of reading more in 2018, I am giving away a copy of the book to one lucky reader! To enter the giveaway please let me know in the comments the last book that you read and also follow me on Instagram @segilolaileke. That's it!