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Saturday, October 10, 2015

Introducing Geosi Gyasi

I first cybermet bookblogger Geosi Gyasi when he interviewed me for his blog Geosi Reads: A World of Literary Pieces. When Geosi says 'world,' he means it. From his home in Ghana, Geosi has reached out to writers and poets from all over, interviewing an impressive array of international figures, including winners of the Commonwealth Prize, the Orange Prize, and the Caine Prize, among others. Geosi is a prolific interviewer, and it's only fair that I should turn the tables and interview him about his blog and about his own poetry.

photo credit: Kathy Knowles
JG: You are a prolific blogger and interviewer. How has interviewing well-known writers such as Kwame Dawes and Cecilia Woloch (and others) influenced your writing style and/or drive? Or, is it the emerging writers who inspire you more?

GG: I’ve been influenced in a number of ways. First, it is important to note that all interviews I have conducted in the past demanded serious research. Through the very act of researching the works of the interviewees, I happen to fall in love with some forms/styles of writing. I have been influenced by both established and emerging writers.

JG: You review novels in addition to poetry books, and interview fiction writers alongside poets, yet you identify as a poet yourself. How did you come to realize you are a poet rather than a fiction writer?

GG: At the beginning of my writing career, I wrote a number of short stories. After a clump of submissions and a hell of rejections, I lost interest in writing fiction. Then I started writing poetry. My first breakthrough came through poetry. So poetry became my first love just because of one acceptance from an editor. For now, I am comfortable being called a poet. Maybe, in future, when any of my short stories are accepted by editors/publishers, I shall have the gust to call myself a fiction writer.

JG: To anyone familiar with your blog Geosi Reads, Benjamin Kwakye is clearly a key influence in your writing and thinking. Tell us about how you have been influenced by his work, how he came to be so important to you.

GG: Benjamin Kwakye is one writer who has influenced me considerably. First meeting him through his book The Clothes of Nakedness gave me the permission to take literary studies seriously. To date, he remains one of the most important writers writing in English. His style of writing has a certain texture and feeling that makes you yearn for more from him. I think he deserves a wider readership.

JG: You are from Ghana, but have lived in South Africa. I read that it was literature that inspired this relocation. What opportunities were you seeking with this move, and did they come to fruition? Have you made any other such dramatic lifestyle decisions in order to stimulate your poetry? Would you recommend other emerging writers make such a drastic decision for the benefit of their art?

GG: Books have had far greater influence on me than any other thing I can think of. At the time when I was going to South Africa, I never told my mum the specific day on which I was going to leave the country. For friends who got the hint of my travel, I had to lie (my apologies) to them that I was going over to study for my master’s degree. The thing was that, I just couldn’t find a better way of telling my mum or friends that I was travelling because of a book I had read and enjoyed. The book I am talking about is J.M Coetzee’s Disgrace. If you live in this part of our world and embark on such an adventure, it is likely that people would think that you’re crazy!

What I would tell emerging writers is that, they don’t have to fear taking risks. A writer ought to learn to be adventurous in other to blossom. I went to South Africa without knowing anybody, yet, I survived by staying long hours in libraries, writing in parks and gardens, doing odd jobs and sleeping at “odd” places. In the end, my adventure paid off greatly because I have lots of experiences to share through writing. 

JG: At Visual Verse, you published a poem entitled “A Writer’s Block.”  Tell us about your experience with writer’s block, and more importantly, how you manage to overcome it. Do you have any advice for other poets?

GG: I was responding to a monthly prompt from Visual Verse Magazine where there was this photo with a donkey standing stiff beside an empty pool. But let’s face it, I’m almost certain, that every writer in one way or the other has experienced a writer’s block before. It’s quiet a disturbing moment when all materials necessary for you to write is available but you just can’t seem to think and write. The best remedy, in my opinion, to any writer who experiences writer’s block is to cease writing immediately and engage in any other activity other than writing. Once you return back, you’ll find something to write, at least, about the activity you engaged in.

JG: Many of your poems begin with memories of your childhood. At this point in your writing career, do you find yourself returning to any themes, including any found in your childhood? Do you have obsessions, either in subject or in form?

GG: It is only normal for me to write about my childhood experiences because I grew up under the care of my grandmother. I think that, in most cases, grandmothers tend to love children. My grandmother showed me the love and care I needed to grow as a child. But don’t ever forget that my work as a librarian has more to do with children than adults. So long as I continue to be surrounded by children, it is only fair that I chronicle their experiences into writing.

JG: What was the most exhilarating interview you’ve ever been fortunate to conduct? What made it such a thrilling experience for you?

GG: It would be hard to single out a particular interview as a personal favourite, however, I dare say my interview with the Nobel Prize Scientist and Writer, Roald Hoffmann is one of the most important interviews I’ve been fortunate to conduct. I liked that interview very well because his answers were vastly intelligent. It was so humbling, for instance, to read his response to my question about what he would like to be remembered for. His response was this: “For having done good science, and for trying, just trying, at all times to be a decent human being”.

JG: You have worked as a teacher, and now are a librarian. Books are central to your identity, so it’s only natural you should have become a writer. How does the internet culture affect how you interact with books, or even what you call literature? How do you see your future in literature, given the rapidly changing marketplace for books?

GG: The internet, in my opinion, is the most vibrant workplace in the world where many dreams can be fulfilled. The only thing the writer ought to do is to devote a certain amount of time to research. I wonder how much time it would have taken me to interview the over 300 writers I have interviewed in the past 5 years of blogging without the internet!

JG: How do you decide where to submit your poems (to which publications)? What are you looking for in an audience? Is there a geographical or thematic component to your choices, or are you concerned about the reach of the circulation, or other factors? Do you have any advice about submitting for new poets?

GG: I am not selective as to the publications I submit my poems. As a matter of fact, I submit my poems everywhere; from established to emerging magazines. I do not look for any specific thing from my audience except for them to read, enjoy or critic and make meaning out of my works. For advice about submitting, I encourage new poets to keep writing and submitting everywhere possible. If you’re rejected by a publisher, read through your work again, make the necessary changes and submit somewhere else. Never ever throw away your rejected works.
JG: One thing that you studiously do is review books. Given your special interest and widespread reading habits, what book or books that you’ve recently read would you recommend for serious readers?

GG: I would recommend the following books: Clinical Blues by Dami Ajayi, In the Kingdom of the Ditch by Todd Davis and Legacy of Phantoms by Benjamin Kwakye.

Thanks to Geosi for generously answering my questions. Please take time to check out his impressive archive of interviews at Geosi Reads: A World of Literary Pieces.


Amitabh Mitra said...

Excellent Interview, Geosi is a great poet and a blogger, he remains the window for the west to see and read emerging African literature

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Amitabh Mitra, I completely agree! Thanks for dropping by my blog.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the introduction. I had enjoy that tremendously.

Jessica Goodfellow said...

Glad you got to know a bit about Geosi, utopianfragments.