13 May 2022
Aiwanose Odafen, author of Tomorrow I Become a Woman, explores the relationship between writing and feminism
Literature guided my introduction to feminism. I was thirteen and in the first year of senior secondary school and our literature teacher informed us that we were to purchase a novel for our class work: The Joys of Motherhood, by Buchi Emecheta; a book that would go on to radicalize me and completely transform my view of the society I existed in. To be clear, I was the second daughter of, what was up until that point, a family of five girls. I’d grown up hearing the passing comments from family members and strangers alike as to how our family was incomplete somehow because I had no brother, no one to inherit my father’s name — because we were all expected to get married and take on our husbands’. No one to, in accordance with existing tradition, lay claim to whatever wealth my father managed to accumulate over the course of his life. As one uncle bluntly put it to him before my brother was born, “What is the point of all this you’re gathering? Who are you leaving it for?” I was young, but I was far from naive, I’d already been given an ample taste of what society had in store for me.
But there was something about this book. Perhaps it was the fact that the main character’s name translated to the bearer being priceless – worth more than twenty bags of cowries – whilst being treated as far from it, or how the society she exists in shamelessly and continuously takes from her, or it was the times I cried as she’s often shamed for circumstances beyond her control. Or perhaps how I anticipated with hope, the ending that the title promised, an ending that would never come in the pages – the joys of motherhood. I often think about that life-defining moment, when I turned the last page and a determination rose within me as a thirteen-year-old who had never heard the word feminism, that I would never subject myself to a life like that.
It was this moment that, in many ways, inspired my life’s choices and propelled me to write Tomorrow I Become A Woman, a novel borne out of the ending to a friendship I’d cultivated during my postgraduate study at Oxford. A friend would not leave an abusive relationship, another friend said I was wrong to encourage her to get a divorce. I was distraught.
Not too long after I’d read Buchi Emecheta’s book, my father had told me to try my hands at writing a book, mostly because I kept asking him to buy me books, and consuming them as quickly as he did. Back then, I’d told him, quite frankly, that I would write when I had something to say. And now, many years later, the time had finally come, I had something to say.
It brought to mind the moment that radicalized me. I desperately wanted to recreate it for someone else, a moment where they would make a decision to live outside of the expected. In writing Tomorrow I Become A Woman, I was inspired to tell the stories of women I knew others would know; women like them, women like us, good and bad. In every page, I wanted to reflect their varied circumstances, the pressures placed on them to bend to expectations, the expectations of endurance; to live their lives for everyone but themselves. I wanted them to love, to laugh, to embrace each other in times of pain; I wanted to write a story with a different ending. Most of all, I was struck, as a woman, by how often than not the definition and strength of our womanhood hinged on circumstances. I wanted to change that, to shift the needle in the smallest of ways.
The characters were real to me, haunting companions who would not depart until I’d put pen to paper on their stories. In doing so, I laughed, I cried and I learned a whole lot about what it means to be a woman.
Tomorrow I Become A Woman by AIwanose Odefen is published by Scribner.
What does it feel ike to be listed for a major writing prize? Read the experience of The Salt Lick author Lulu Allison.