Born and raised in Accra, Akotowaa started writing when she was ten years old, at a time when she had already developed an addiction to reading. The first story she wrote was about a girl who lost her voice and went all around her neighbourhood looking for it.
“I thought I was the cleverest person in the world, for thinking up such a storyline,” Akotowaa said.
Positive feedback from her grandfather after reading the story spurred little Akotowaa on to write more stories and dream of becoming a writer in the future.
“When I finished my story, I printed some copies and gave one to my grandfather. He read it and looked at me with that serious expression he used to have, and he said, You wrote this? This is good… This is very good. That was all I needed to hear, and the most important person I needed to hear it from. I wrote several more stories, most of which I showed first to my grandfather, and I decided in that year that I was going to be a ‘real’ writer when I grew up,” she revealed.
After that, she decided to read more books to get inspiration for her stories. Later, it became a question of the books she enjoyed, and her desire to make them feel more relevant to her. She then developed an interest in Enid Blyton’s books, including The Famous 5 and Secret Seven.
“I thought to myself, what would it be like if all these characters were Ghanaian? how would such a story play out if it was taking place in my own neighbourhood in Accra? And then I started writing my own mystery series based on that concept,” Akotowaa said. “The more stories I read, the more my imagination expanded the range of stories I could think of to write, and that continues to be the case today.”
When it comes to writing, Akotowaa does not focus on a particular genre, as she sees herself as a multi-genre writer. However, she has recently found herself leaning into African speculative fiction, as she now finds speculative fiction as the most exciting genre for her to read.
“It sparks my imagination and emotions better than nearly any other genre of writing, and because it captures me so thoroughly, it makes me want to re-create that feeling for other readers. And then naturally, because of my own lived experiences, identity and philosophy, the speculative fiction I write becomes specifically African speculative fiction.”
“At the moment, my biggest inspiration in terms of writing style is Octavia E. Butler, because she writes exactly the kind of speculative fiction that I would like to write. Her world-building is excellent, but it has never, in all the books of hers I’ve read so far, overpowered the strength of her characters or her plot,” she said.
Aside from Octavia E. Butler whose books spark Akotowaa’s interest in speculative fiction, she is also inspired by other female writers, including Cornelia Funke, Nnedi Okorafor and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.
“Cornelia Funke is a German writer who repurposes German and other European fairy tales as skillfully as I aim to repurpose Ghanaian and other African folktales and legends; and Nnedi Okorafor comes up with some of the most interesting concepts I’ve ever read in sci-fi, and she gave a name to a whole genre—’Africanfuturism’—which I identify with deeply.”
“Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi, who is my favourite writer at the moment, is Ugandan, and she is brilliant. Her novels are so dense, so expansive with their timelines, women-centred, and full of African history. But I think what I most admire in her work is her refusal to shy away from the fantastical, magical, or mythological elements of African history.”
Akotowaa’s creative process, however, is inspired by rebellion. “It feels like my natural fuel,” she said. “Someone says, You can’t do this? and my instinctive response is, I think I’m going to try doing it. Or someone says, This is just not how things are done, and my instinctive response is, I don’t see why I can’t be the first to do it.”
But it’s not just rebellion for rebellion’s sake. There are fundamental things that Akotowaa believes in, like justice and equality and Africanist thought. She translates not just her love for stories but the strength of her emotions regarding the things she believes in into her creative process.
“Rebellion is basically about effecting change, and stories are part of my chosen mediums for effecting that change,” she said.
The genius behind ‘The Spider Kid’
As a storyteller, Akotowaa created an aspirational alter ego, “The Spider Kid”, as her personal totem because she felt like it represented a lot of her intersecting identities and aspirations.
“The Spider Kid is the best version of myself: the wisest and most creative version,” she said. “Creating that ego and calling myself by it feels like a constant affirmation, in the sense that, even when I don’t believe I’ve reached that wiser version of myself, calling myself by that title forces me to believe that in some reality, I’ve already become her.”
“For instance, I’m a Ghanaian, partly Akan, storyteller. When most people think Akan+Ghanaian+Storytelling, who else comes to mind but a certain infamous spider-man? Besides, I think the orb weaver spider is the ultimate representation of a self-sustaining artist/craftsperson in the animal kingdom. It creates this beautiful, artistic web, which doubles as its means for feeding itself—a brilliant embodiment of both wisdom and creativity,” she explained. ” Deep thoughts and metaphors aside, I really just think ‘The Spider Kid’ sounds cool.”
Akotowaa’s writing projects
One of Akotowaa’s biggest writing projects is On The Ceiling (OTC), which is a fiction series that follows the adventures of Kuukua Annan, a troublesome, talented trickster who thinks Kwaku Ananse stories are the most overrated things in Ghana.
“It [OTC] started as a short story series in which I bent the legends of Kwaku Ananse to accommodate a 21st-century teenager called Kuukua Annan, who has peculiar qualities that run through her family.”
“I don’t think any project has brought me as much joy to work on as my On the Ceiling project. It just revived my love for Ghanaian folktales because working on it showed me how much potential they have for evolution and modern entertainment,” she said.
Akotowaa later translated all Kuukua’s OTC stories into an original 8-part Anansesem podcast called Green Green Grasses. Each Green Green Grasses episode loosely corresponds to a Kuukua Annan story in consecutive order.
“Right now, I’m working on a third part to this On The Ceiling project, and it’s going to be another short story series, but this one will focus on the legend of Okonore Yaa, rather than Kwaku Ananse. I’m hoping to release these stories sometime near the top of next year, at the latest,” she revealed.
In 2019, one of Akotowaa’s stories, Principles of Balance, was published in Jalada Africa Magazine. Principles of Balance is an African fantasy short story that follows the experience of nonbinary character Nbelenyin in a mythical Dagaaba civilization.
“That story brought my name and my work into literary circles where I could hardly have imagined that anybody would even know I existed, at least not at this point in my baby writing career,” she said. “I love how much fun it was to write Principles of Balance, and if you look closely, you’ll probably notice some very strong elements of Kwaku Ananse reflected in that story’s main character, as well.”
Akotowaa has also created “The Spinneret“, which is a newsletter where she documents insights on her creative process in hopes that her experiences will help others on their creative and writing journeys as well.
Getting recognition as a writer
Akotowaa has been duly recognised by local and international creative prize competitions for her amazing writing projects. She was longlisted for the Koffi Addo Writivism Prize for Creative Nonfiction and Fiction in 2017 and 2018 respectively. In 2020, she was shortlisted for the Toyin Falola Prize, as well as a Nommo Award.
“Getting shortlisted for the Nommo Award came as a shock to me, because that is the sort of award that legendary African writers of speculative fiction get nominated for. I was losing my mind to see my name in a Nommo Awards shortlist!” she revealed.
Most recently, she has been shortlisted for the Miles Morland Fellowship, which is a scholarship given to selected African writers to complete a book in a year.
“To date, I think this is the most mind-blowing external affirmation I have ever received as a writer,” Akotowaa said. “To have gotten even as far as the shortlist means that someone considers that I even could be worth giving several thousands of dollars to, just so I can write more, and write better. Even the possibility of receiving the scholarship, if I get that far, is as terrifying as it would be a dream come true.”
“Honestly, when it comes down to it, all I want in this life is the freedom and unblocked creativity to tell amazing stories. Affirmations like these, especially when they come with financial opportunities, push me further and further towards achieving that goal,” she added.
For her next big step, Akotowaa hopes to be able to properly finish and sell a novel to a major and international publisher.
“I want to see myself thoroughly immersed in a writing project that is involving and entertaining enough to remind me of my purpose in life, and to see all that purposeful work eventually reach people’s hands and transform their lives in tiny and/or cosmic ways,” she said.
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