Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with Nii Ayikwei Parkes
By Yong Shu Hoong
On the Lonely Planet website, the perpetually-interchanging opening page to its travel guide of Ghana associates the West African country with "historic trading fortresses" and "where elephants meet". On a photo, where tribal drums are the focus, the tagline morphs to "Ghana is playing to a different beat."
Of course, trying to understand an England-born Ghanaian poet like Nii Ayikwei Parkes (b. 1974) through a survey of tourist-friendly representations of Ghana would be a futile strategy veering way off-course – especially when the subject is a unique individual who, before becoming a versatile well-travelled writer, used to be a food technologist. Though, one should also note, the colours and flavours of his culture do seep readily into his poetry (his "first love") as well as other genres of writing.
For example, in his hybrid novel, Tail of the Blue Bird, that was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize 2010, the story unfolds in a Ghanaian village called Sonokrom. Translated into Dutch, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Catalan and Japanese, Tail of the Blue Bird was crowned Best First Foreign Book in 2014 by leading French literary magazine, Lire. The novel's French translation also won the 2014 Prix Baudelaire, Prix Mahogany and Prix Laure Bataillon.
Parkes now lives in Ghana. A 2007 recipient of Ghana's ACRAG award for poetry and literary advocacy, he has also authored the book of poems, The Makings of You. He writes for children under the name K.P. Kojo and is currently working on a crowd-funded collection of short stories, The City Will Love You, which is slated for release later in 2018.
1. What are you reading right now?
2. If you were a famous literary character in a novel, play or poem, who would you be, and why?
3. What is the greatest misconception about you?
4. Name one living author and one dead author you identify with most, and tell us why.
5. Do you believe in writer's block? If so, how do you overcome it?
6. What qualities do you admire most in a writer?
7. What is one trait you deplore most in writing or writers?
8. Can you recite your favourite line from a literary work or a piece of advice from a writer?
9. Complete this sentence: Few people know this, but I…
10. At the movies, if you have to pick a comedy, a tragedy or an action thriller to watch, which will you go for, and why?
11. What is your favourite word, and what is your least favourite one?
12. Write a rhyming couplet that includes the following three words: jet, lag, fire.
13. What object is indispensable to you when you write?
14. What is the best time of the day for writing?
15. If you had a last supper, which three literary figures, real or fictional, would you invite to the soiree, and why?
16. How do current affairs – for example, Brexit and Europe's immigration crisis – affect your creative work as a writer?
17. What would you write on your own tombstone?