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Alex Adjei-Agyri: An interview with a writer

Alex is a member of the Ghana Association of Writers (GAW) and points to writer Kojo Laing as among his favourite novelists. He tells us what the catalyst his writing career was and shares some advice for emerging writers.

What genre(s) do you write in?

I write mostly poetry and non-fiction/ fiction with an inclination towards the politics of development, history and social dynamics of Africa and Ghana. But as a child, I was inspired by nature and later by Shakespeare and other English authors at primary school.

Ghana had two main seasons and I appreciate them and all their peculiar colours. I like Harmattan with its hazy blinding mask of dusty mask and a uniform dirty white. And the rainy season which came with hues of intoxicating winery of a scented atmosphere, revealing nature’s assorted hidden multicoloured format. I would write essays on them and present them to my teachers to mark me on them.

Alex presents some of his books to the then Chief Justice of Ghana.

What has inspired your writing?

An encounter with Professor K.G Folson the Pro Vice Chancellor of the University of Ghana, at matriculation day at Legon was the catalyst.

He sat on my table on matriculation day ceremony in 1979 and asked me and those who were with me, why we were at the university. And after a while he asked whether we understood why Africa was in perpetual transition. When we told him that we were acquiring knowledge to help our people, he laughed and told us, “you’ll be disappointed”.

The surprise I got from the discussion set me to reflect and explore the political economies of Ghana and Africa. I started putting down materials for Rubble, which I published in 1984. But the encounter also inspired my other novels: Unexpected Joy at Dawn, One More Dance in December and The Coffee Shop.

How many books/ anthologies have you written?

I’ve published five books, one a collection of poetry called Elements and I’ve co-authored two volumes of poetry with a lady Emefa, which may be published soon.

Who has nurtured your writing?

Alonysius Denkabe, who was my literary adviser in my first year at Legon and had a boost with my introduction to Attukwei Okai by lecturer Helen Odamten of the Department of Languages of the University of Ghana.

My long association with Bernard Kodjo Laing, then Secretary to the Department of African Studies, encouraged me in the way I crafted my work and the need to be my own thinker and Author. Meanwhile, Attukwei impressed me with the idea that though materials collected for the written word was important the word to weave them with have weight in the written word. Becoming a member of the GAW helped me.

Has having another profession been useful?

I have a law practice and write part time. Being a lawyer has given me economic stability to finance printing my books and adding to linguistic repertoire.

Who is your favourite novelist?

My favourites are Kodjo Laing, Sophocles’ works, Arthur Miller and other American writers generally.

What are the challenges for writers?

· Limited economic benefit

· Poor infrastructure to support writing

· Poor media coverage,

· Undeveloped critique culture to give exposure to the written work,

· Lack of agents and publishers to support the work of writing

· Government don’t see writing and authorship as a serious economic enterprise.

What practical advice would you give to writers?

Writing as a chronicle of our age for the future is good because it promotes self-reflection and some hope that one day, some change would come from those pieces we’ve put down.

We will be profiling more Ghanaians in literature in our fifth issue of AKADi.

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