In Conversation with Bunmi Oyinsan about Her Breakout Book ‘Three Women’

There are certain books that grab you and keep you reading long past the time you intended to put the book down, and ‘Three Women’ by Bunmi Oyinsan is one of those phenomenal books, making it the book to read this summer, and no doubt for seasons to come. ‘Three Women’ is a powerful and intimate portrayal of three generations of women seen through the gaze of family life in Africa. It is a rich and sprawling saga all about the impact of a false allegation on a Nigerian mother and ensuing generations of her family. 

Oyinsan is talented at not only weaving an engaging, compelling story, but her characters also capture the hearts and minds of readers because of the unique voice and perspective of each woman in this brilliant story.  ‘The Women’ is destined to be a classic, and we were thrilled that Bunmi Oyinsan took some time out of her busy schedule to talk about her work and what’s coming next from this gifted author. 

‘Three Women’ is a phenomenal read and has captured the attention of readers and reviewers. What or who was your inspiration for this rather amazing book? 

My grandmother told me a lot of stories about the city of Lagos when I was growing up. Her stories were populated with strong women, which left a lasting impression on me. Some of her stories were made up while others were about real-life women. But these were stories that were not in the textbooks I was made to read at school. ‘Three Women’, is a cross-generational saga grounded in historical and contemporary Nigeria. Like my other novels, ‘Three Women’ was also inspired by my desire to claim a voice or voices for women as the case may be, by creating female characters from a woman’s perspective. 

You have created some compelling and complex characters, what is one of your keys for creating characters that really intrigue and engage readers?

Most of my books, stage plays and films have had female protagonists, and I have also found myself reacting to orature because of the role which story telling played in my choice of vocation. In addition to being inspired by works of other women writers, I situate myself firmly within the traditions of women storytellers. Most of my works have developed in response not only to the flat, negative, and often invisible portrayal of African women in some novels but also as a result of the recognition that most African cultures are still predominantly oral cultures. Although the temptation initially was to create only ‘perfect’ characters, I have tried to acknowledge where a female character has flaws.  

I also focus on the causes of such flaws rather than to propagate the assumption that women are naturally weak, evil or devious. I also believe that it is important to show women not only as victims, but as active determinants of the course of their lives as well as active elements in their communities. My interest in orature is also illustrated by the fact that when I sit down to write, I find myself responding to several stimuli. Sometimes it is the lyrics of a song, a particular proverb, the strands of a conversation I have heard somewhere, something I read or saw in a stage play or on the television which plays at the back of my mind. It was also in a bid to interact with the various elements with which I was determined to dialogue that I ventured into film making.

How long did it take for you to write ‘Three Women’ and what was one of the challenges you faced while writing it? 

Honestly, I can’t say precisely how long it took me to write ‘Three Women’ because I was not writing full time. I was juggling raising kids with work and taking every opportunity and free time to write. The most challenging aspect was the historical parts of the novel, and I am forever grateful to the Daily Times of Nigeria for letting me spend weeks in their archive libraries over old newspapers. I wanted to get a sense of what it felt like to live in the periods that I was writing about.

You have had a long career as a storyteller in many different areas. What is it about storytelling that you find so fascinating? 

Like I said, my grandmother sparked my interest in story telling from a very early age. That interest led me to focus on researching how oral story telling traditions impact women writers and filmmakers from Africa and the African diaspora for my masters and doctoral degrees.  I believe that it is as important now as it has always been for African stories to be told by African voices. 

 ‘Three Women’ has been extremely successful, do you have another book or project in the works you can tell us about? 

Yes, I have just completed another novel: ‘Ladders of Bone’ which chronicles some horrific events in the lives of five young people from various parts of the African diaspora. ‘Ladders of Bone’ is however not so much about the gruesome violence to which the young characters have been subjected; rather it is about how their violent experiences shape their lives and their future as well as the future of the African continent. If the global Black Lives Matter Movement has taught us anything, it is the fact that racism is a global pandemic. Its manifestation might be different but it is not restricted to the borders of individual countries. Racism is at the bottom of the way in which a continent as rich as Africa is, it is also the poorest. 

Yes, most African leaders are corrupt, but corruption is not the only culprit responsible for the situation of Africa. What is responsible for the warped global economic structure which ensures that African countries are not in control of their natural resources? African farmers can continue to slave from now till kingdom come, if they cannot determine the prices of their produce in the global market, they will remain poor. African voices must continue to be raised in any way Africans can, to denounce the continued pillaging of the continent and the continued oppression of people of African descent all over the world.

What do you do to celebrate when you finish a new book? 

To be honest, I vegetate!  I watch marathon episodes of my favorite TV shows. This is because I usually write at a manic pace especially when I am trying to get to that last line. Afterwards all I want to do is just vegetate.

For more information on ‘Three Women’ and Bunmi Oyinsan head on over to Amazon.

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