Author of Bomboy and winner of the 2012 South African Literary Award First Time Author Prize, Yewande Omotoso, shares the five books that have shaped her life.
1. ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ by T.S. Elliot, 1939
My mother used to read from this book to myself and my brothers at bedtime. We were quite young then and all shared a room and I remember my mother making voices and accents as appropriate to the poems – I can still hear her.
2. ‘Edith Jackson’ (1978), ‘The Friends’ (1973) and ‘And I Heard a Bird Sing’ (1987) by Rosa Guy
I read a lot of Rosa Guy’s books in my pre-adolescent years. She wrote ‘Edith Jackson’ (1978) and ‘The Friends’ (1973) and ‘And I Heard a Bird Sing’ (1987). Stories of African American girls my age living in Harlem. I recall the covers and the intricate stories of love betrayal and trust.
3. ‘Yoruba Girl Dancing’ by Simi Bedford, 1991
Most of the books I read were bought for me by my parents. I loved reading a book about a Yoruba girl which is what I was at the time. It is a story about a girl who goes to boarding school in Britain and the challenge of being an outsider. A year after I read the book I moved to South Africa with my family and began a life in a new country.
4. ‘Beka Lamb’ by Zee Edgell, 1982
When we moved to South Africa in 1992, my father was a Professor of English at the University of the Western Cape. He taught ‘Beka Lamb’ to his students. One day he brought the book home and invited me to read it. In keeping with the books that were impacting me, it’s the story of a young girl growing up in Belize. To be honest I don’t remember the details of the story. Mostly what stayed with me is the chutzpah of the young protagonist, her courage at surviving both real hurricanes and the hurricane that growing up, especially in working class conditions, can be.
5. ‘Going Solo’ by Roald Dahl, 1986
Twelve years old and new in South Africa, my parents enrolled me at Golden Grove Primary School. I was in Standard 5. I struggled to make friends and would continue to struggle for several years. The Golden Grove library and its librarian were my friends, the books. I remember seeing this book on the shelf and, of course, liking the title. But ‘Going Solo’ also stands out for a strange somewhat cryptic reason. Somehow, and memories are often inaccurate, I have it in my mind that this was the book I was reading when I began my first ever menstrual cycle.
Yewande Omotoso is Barbadian-Nigerian and currently lives in Johannesburg. A trained architect, she completed a masters in creative writing at the University of Cape Town. Her debut novel ‘Bomboy’ (2011 Modjaji Books), was shortlisted for the 2012 Sunday Times Literary Awards, the MNet Film Award and the 2013 Etisalat Prize for Literature. It won the South African Literary Award First Time Author Prize. Yewande was a 2013 Norman Mailer Fellow.