In 2013, Yewande Omotoso was shortlisted for the Etisalat Prize for Fiction. In the same year, Sarah Ladipo Manyika was the Chair of Judges for the prize. This first connection between the writers was pointed out by Emma Shercliff who moderated a book chat in which both writers discussed their books, The Woman Next Door and Like a Mule Bringing Ice Cream to the Sun.
“My book is about two women in their eighties who hate one another. The story deals with being in the last stage of life and also deals with race. One of the women is South African and white, the other is a black woman from Barbados,” Yewande said by way of introducing her book. Sarah’s book also had similar themes as one of her major characters is a Nigerian woman in her seventies living in San Francisco and encountering different characters.
Where Yewande read a portion from her book, Sarah Ladipo stepped in and out (literally) of the shoes of two characters in her book: an old Nigerian woman and a young white homeless woman.
The two books had any similarities aside from the very near themes in the actual events that took place within the stories and Emma Shercliff ferreted out each one. She however pointed out that Sarah’s book was a little more uplifting.
“I’m drawn to stuff that I want to read that I am not finding. I wanted to read stories about older women. I was finding a lot of stories about older white men but not so many about older women of colour,” Sarah said in response to Emma about why she chose to write a story about an older woman. Yewande’s inspiration came from her grandmother who she said was widowed a few years ago after having been married for decades. “It came out of a curiosity as to what it’s like to have the most of your life behind you.”
For stories that deal with the three older women, the theme of motherhood was one that could not be ignored. “Motherhood is never expanded enough to encompass all the things that motherhood can be,” Yewande said. Maria and Hortensia in The Woman Next Door handled motherhood differently. Where Maria was a mother of four and considered herself a failed mother (she was estranged from three of her children), Hortensia had a misshapen womb and therefore couldn’t have children although she blamed herself for a long time.
The two books give voice to age and to the idea of whether one can change after having been a certain way for so long. Yewande said she thought it was vaguely possible and hints at this in her book. Her characters were really tough women, trying to love each other but already set in their ways and the moments of tenderness were few.
Sarah’s character, Morayo, had a tradition of doing something new every birthday and taught her writer to be and constantly learn.
Both writers drew from the older women they had in their lives to write their books, from imagination and from research.
Enajite Efemuaye works as enterprise editor at Kachifo Limited, one of Nigeria’s foremost independent publishers, and is also the Manager of Farafina Trust. Her work has been published in African Independent, This is Africa, Ake Review, Sabinews.com, Guardian Life Magazine and Brittle Paper.