Ayobami Adebayo Q&A: “In 3018, I would love to be a therapist for robots”

The novelist talks family, time travel, and the late Dora Akunyili.

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Ayobami Adebayo was born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1988. Her first novel, “Stay With Me”, was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Wellcome Book Prize. She has been taught by Margaret Atwood and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

What’s your earliest memory?

I remember standing in our living room and wanting desperately to be in the kitchen instead. I definitely wasn’t four yet because we were still in my family’s first home. What I remember vividly about that moment is the smell of vanilla wafting towards me from the kitchen. I think my mother was baking a cake that day. Even now, I can hardly resist the pull of a slice of cake.

Who are your heroes?

My dad was my Superman when I was a child. My mum is my Wonder Woman now.

What was the last book that changed your thinking?

Emmanuel Iduma’s artful and gorgeous A Stranger’s Pose. I’ve always thought of myself as decidedly and irrevocably Yoruba/Nigerian. This book challenged my ideas about home and identsity.

Which political figure, past or present, do you look up to?

The late Dora Akunyili. Her efforts to get rid of fake drugs in Nigeria saved thousands, if not millions, of lives. She was the first Nigerian politician I could actually respect.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

The incredible brilliance of Nina Simone.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

Lusaka in 3018. From what I’ve read, the past is not as great as we sometimes imagine it to be, so I’d rather go forward.

Who would paint your portrait?

Njideka Akunyili Crosby.

What’s your theme tune?

This goes back and forth between “Here Comes the Sun” and “Amazing Grace”. There’s also Simi’s version of Ebenezer Obey’s Yoruba classic “Aimasiko”.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

My dad believed you should never lend anyone money that you can’t forfeit if they default. I’m not doing so good at following that advice, but I keep trying anyway.

What’s currently bugging you?

The road outside my flat is being repaired. As usual, the construction has gone on for longer than scheduled and feels as though it will go on forever. There’s dust everywhere and the noise is very distracting.

What single thing would make your life better?

It’s always cheesecake. Most of the time it’s vanilla. Once in a while, it could be strawberry. Having uninterrupted power in Nigeria would also be great.

When were you happiest?

Happiness is always a delicious possibility when I’m in the same room as my sister.

In another life, what job would you have chosen?

Historian, anthropologist, teacher or playwright. In 3018, I would love to be a therapist for robots who have had it with their human colleagues. In 2018, I would settle for being a therapist to humans.

Are we all doomed?

The planet appears to be, but maybe we’ll figure out how to live on Mars. It would be easier and more practical to pursue policies that could actually save this planet, but I suppose politicians have secret mansions on Mars already. 

“Stay With Me” is published by Canongate

This article appears in the 23 November 2018 issue of the New Statesman, The real Brexit crisis