Wasafiri Wonders: Lola Olufemi
Ever wondered what your favourite author’s first drafts look like? Or which book they love that nobody’s heard of? Wasafiri Wonders is a series that asks these questions for you.
We spoke with Lola Olufemi, a black feminist writer and CREAM/Stuart Hall Foundation researcher from London. Her work focuses on the uses of the feminist imagination and its relationship to cultural production, political demands and futurity. She is the author of Experiments in Imagining Otherwise and Feminism, Interrupted: Disrupting Power and a member of ‘bare minimum’, an interdisciplinary anti-work arts collective.
Describe your first drafts in one sentence.
Not often good!
Tell us about your writing rituals.
I think it depends on the text; the rituals change. The only consistent one is that I let my closest friends read and give me feedback on anything I write before I send it to an editor. I invite lots of eyes. I wrote a lot of Experiments in Imagining Otherwise whilst listening to music, which is not actually something I do often. Feminism, Interrupted I wrote mostly in SOAS Library. Right now, I’m writing something that could be a novel and have been challenging myself to write as much as I can on the Victoria Line between Tottenham Hale and Kings Cross (sad but true). I’m reading the first pages of a lot of contemporary novels to remind myself that I can do it.
What themes do you gravitate towards and why?
I find that I’m always writing about relational processes; for me that manifests in a preoccupation with revolution and transformation. When I’m writing, I want my desire for the end of racial capitalism and all other forms of structural violence to be clear. I want my ache for a different set of social relations to be palpable. I hate the way ambivalence is fetishised by rich writers. I’m always writing with the question ‘How do we escape this?’ in mind. I think that will be the guiding preoccupation of my life.
What’s the book you haven’t written yet, but want to be known for?
Regardless of form, I want my writing to be an invitation into critical thought that readers can lovingly shake off or build on when they go on to engage with the work of others.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
That in order to write well, you need read widely and get good at mimicking. Writing every day doesn’t work for me, but reading something (anything!) when I’m feeling stuck does. You have to learn to be okay with not being very good, and to savour a turn of phrase. Ask yourself, ‘what are the technical components of the writing that compels me?’ ‘What is this writer doing that makes me feel X?’ Texts find themselves in the editing process. Someone once told me that my writing needed more ‘coffee and moonlight’ – go slowly, sit on things, don’t be so eager to finish – but I don’t think she liked me very much, so I take that particular piece of advice with a pinch of salt.
What is a classic you recently read for the first time?
Che Guevara’s Guerilla Warfare. I read a lot of archival material for my PhD — it’s been a joy to read different excerpts from feminist periodical Outwrite and FOWAAD!, the Organisation of Women of African and Asian Descent’s newsletter.
What is a book or pamphlet you love that no one else has heard of?
Not a book or a pamphlet or a text no one has heard of, but Clara Balaguer’s Publishing as Bloodletting made me think about how and why texts circulate.
Which books or authors are relevant reads in our political climate — or one you’d recommend to current world leaders?
I don’t think recommending books to world leaders is useful.