Oyinkan Braithwaite Q&A: “In another life I’d be a ballerina. I admire their poise”

The Booker-longlisted novelist on Nigeria, Law & Order and the Bible

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Oyinkan Braithwaite was born in Lagos, Nigeria, in 1988 and grew up both there and in north London. Her debut novel “My Sister, the Serial Killer” was longlisted for the 2019 Booker Prize.

What’s your earliest memory?

Being given sand to pour on my great-grandfather’s coffin. My nana had taken me to his funeral against my mother’s wishes. Apparently I spent the next few days following my mother around and asking her if she was going to die, which must have been uber creepy.

Who are your heroes?

As a child, it was Anne of Green Gables. Now, my parents deserve the title – they are hardworking, generous and both have a great sense of humour.

What book last changed your thinking?

The Bible. Each time I read it, I learn something new. One of the more popular parables inspired one of my recent shorts.

Which political figure do you look up to?

Yemi Adamolekun, a political activist in Nigeria.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

How to make a meal in 15 minutes. I really hate being in the kitchen for too long. I get bored and start to think of other things I could be doing. However, I like to eat.

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

Nigeria pre-colonialisation, as I am really curious about what “Nigeria” was like before it became Nigeria.

What TV show could you not live without?

I’ve finished all the shows I couldn’t live without – Medium, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Fringe. Now I spend most of my time obsessing over anime.

Who would paint your portrait?

My fiancé would make a cute cartoon me.

What’s your theme tune?

“I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack, but the Gladys Knight cover. The first time I heard the song I fell in love with the lyrics, which to me are guidelines for how to live one’s life with joy: “I hope you never lose your sense of wonder…”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve  ever received?

My dad drilled into my brain the principles of financial literacy. I think it is paying off.

What’s currently bugging you?

Covid-19. I spiral when I think about it. Here in Nigeria the numbers are climbing, albeit slowly. There are too many people who earn their income daily and need to move around; and it doesn’t appear that the economy can withstand another lockdown. We don’t have the resources to manage the virus getting much worse.

What single thing would make your  life better?

My apartment renovations being completed. I am getting married this year and we started the work just before the lockdown, so were forced to stop.

When were you happiest?

When I held my novel in my hands for the first time. When my fiancé proposed. When my cousin took his first steps.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

A ballerina. I admire their poise and elegance. I took some ballet classes once with nine-year-olds; I would have been 19.

Are we all doomed?

Probably. No, I kid. As long as there is life, there’s hope. 

“My Sister, the Serial Killer” is shortlisted for the 2020 Goldsboro Books Glass Bell Award and for the Crime and Thriller Book of the Year at the British Book Awards

This article appears in the 05 June 2020 issue of the New Statesman, We can't breathe

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