What are a few moments in your childhood that stand out as definitive?
Definitely discovering books when I was a child. My parents are both first generation immigrants who have come here from Nigeria and in the beginning, as they tried to settle, they took on numerous jobs. It was a lot and meant that most of the time they weren’t as physically present as they would have wanted to be. Sometimes my siblings and I would take ourselves to the local library which was a five-minute walk from our home. My siblings would play games on the computer but I always found myself lost in a book. I tried to read every book in the library, finishing some in hours and others a day while sometimes just skimming through the collection of comics the library had. I think this is the most definitive period of my life because if it wasn’t for that library and the ease of access that comes with borrowing books, I wouldn’t have known the power of words so early and want to be a writer.
Your work is moved by the research of your heritage and sharing that data. How important is it for you to have control of your voice and narrative as a young woman of Igbo heritage?
I think as an Igbo person you’re aware of how much your voice has been stolen, as a black person you realise how much your voice has been stolen, and as a woman, you realise it too. I don’t like the weight that comes with existing at times, especially when you fit in the bracket of the marginalised BUT the dignifying saving grace has always been to be myself, to speak my own truth, and having the strength to dictate the direction with which my life goes. I always tell myself, “I am the author of the dictionary that defines me.” because I cannot let someone else tell me who I am. I know enough from sharing my work and researching the work of others that in being yourself and controlling your voice, you find that you have helped others to be comfortable with their own voice too.
The concept of a residency on Distinguished Diva came to you when and what inspired it?
I had a really busy end of the year in 2020, with my masters and also a lot of personal upheavals and I remember just feeling so emotionally tired. I felt like for all the tiredness that I felt, I still didn’t feel like the energy that was taken from me was being put in things that nourished me. I had a little break for Christmas and had time to really think and decided that I needed to muster the courage to share my writing, it was something I have always wanted to do but somehow never felt good enough. After a lot of internal talks of encouragement, I decided that I would indeed begin to share my work but that I wanted to share it through a platform so it would feel like something inescapable and supporting. Distinguished Diva was the first platform that came to mind because it’s not just a platform but a community and its celebration of Black women and the artistic voice is something that I had been following closely with admiration.
How personal do you allow yourself to get when you write essays that are inspired by your current situation?
As someone who isn’t naturally open, I find writing is a space where I am confidently vulnerable. It’s important for me to be personal to make what I’m writing truthful and not fiction but I think that in a society that encourages privacy and shame, I do find myself at times wondering just how personal I want to get. Writing the piece on motherhood and mother wounds was important for me because through talking openly about such a topic that often feels taboo, people began messaging me that they were thankful that I talked about my experience because it was so similar to theirs. There’s a reminder that Octavia Butler wrote to herself which said, “Make people FEEL FEEL FEEL.” The times I have successfully made people feel was when I was as open and vulnerable as I could push myself to be and that’s why I push myself to continue to do so in my art.
How do you care for yourself? What are your rituals and motivators for loving yourself? What are your practices?
I continue to learn the art of self-love, but I find that I care for myself best when I exercise. Doing intense workouts always makes me feel better or letting time pass with a long bath and candles as well as reading a book before bed rather than scrolling through my phone. I’m learning more and more how important loving myself is and the need for self-exploration to understand what, besides my work, creates happiness and contentment within me. I’m sure the older I get or as I change environments, I’ll have new rituals and other practices which are important to loving myself.
What is your must-have book, poem, or artwork that you will always recommend?
A book: Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin
A poem: We Real Cool – Gwendolyn Brooks
An essay: Uses of the Erotic by Audre Lorde
Artwork: Untitled (painter) – Kerry James Marshall
When do you see yourself writing a book?
I think that in the next five years I would like to have a book published, whether it is a collection of essays or a novel itself, it would be amazing to have work solidified and out there in that way. Yet, at the same time, I do not want to rush. I love to write short stories and I am currently writing a series of stories that I love, let’s see! I leave everything to the universe.
What is your best recipe for joy right now?
My best recipe for joy is long walks surrounded by trees and sitting by a lake. I feel like whenever I’m in nature or near water, I feel calmer. I think everything feels so uncertain these days that it is hard to muster the energy to commit to things and try anything new so a long walk often makes me think about things far from my present reality or makes me even not think at all. Being surrounded by tall trees and the presence of water, makes me feel small in a comforting way. I also have been learning to roller skate…badly. Yet, the patience that it forces me to have and the fact it’s a new hobby have filled me with a childlike joy I realise I hadn’t experienced for a while. I guess joy right now for me is doing things that make me feel less serious.
Do you have any new body of work you will like to share with our audience and where else can they find you?
I created a platform recently called Not Actually Radical. It aims to celebrate, educate and unlearn. I believe radical transformative work happens more often than we think and can be done through so many avenues, we just need to be able to see more people having a platform to show and talk about what they do. In terms of change, I have always had a strong view that it isn’t something done through purely physical means but that true liberation is a journey of unlearning and reconstructing the idea of Self and in turn the environment and others. I want to provide content about things that aren’t taught so openly that can make people unlearn the ideas of self or society that they have been socialised to believe.
For my music please find me on: @svetlanartist
For my writing: @hertempestongue
All photos courtesy of Her tempest tongue.