African Writer Profile: Dayo Forster
Dayo comes from a family of Aku, otherwise known as Krios. The Aku originated from Krios who came from Sierra Leone in the 19th Century. The Krio are a mixture of recently freed slaves who were liberated from slave ships intercepted by the British in West Africa and freed slaves returning from the diaspora from such places as the US, the Caribbean and Nova Scotia. Many of the freed slaves were of Yoruba descent, which is why it is common to find Krios with Yoruba names, like Dayo.
Dayo studied statistics and computing at the London School of Economics.
Dayo had always been an avid reader but she took up writing late in life.
On her website she writes:
I took up writing aged 35, while living in America, essentially to figure out a way of expressing opinions and publishing essays on various topics. I stumbled into fiction while attending a writing workshop. The optional assignment was to extend a character in a story someone else had written. I tried it – and was bowled over by the power of virtual reality – the ability to create someone else’s world and be able to view everything through that person’s eyes. And to feel God-like, able to make things happen, yet be sensitive enough to continue to inhabit a character’s skin.
To learn more about Dayo’s relationship with literature, read her piece “a short life in literature”.
Dayo went on to publish a short story in Kwani?, a Kenyan literary journal. She would later participate in the 2006 Caine African Writer’s Workshop. The short story she wrote for the workshop would be published in the 2006 Caine Prize for African Writing Anthology, The Obituary Tango. The short story she wrote for Kwani? would lead her to write her first novel, “Reading the Ceiling”.
“Reading the Ceiling” follows the three possible trajectories that the life of its heroine, Ayodele, could take based on who she chooses to lose her virginity to when she is 18 years old.
Dayo is the first Gambian woman to get an international publishing contract. She was able to achieve this with the help of her contacts in the Kenyan literary scene.
In her interview with Molara Wood she says:
In Kenya where I’m based, I went along to monthly meetings organised by Kwani? I read the first chapter of my manuscript and got lots of helpful feedback. Binyavanga Wainaina (2002 Caine winner and Kwani? founder) recommended some agents; the first one I contacted, signed me. I wrote the first draft while in the US, in 4 months; the whole process was wonderful and quick. If I hadn’t been living in Kenya, it would have been difficult to complete this book. I do thank Kenya for that. There were a few people who were selfless.
“Reading the Ceiling” was shortlisted for Best First Book in the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize-Africa Region.
Dayo Forster speaks Krio, Wolof, Kiswahili and French.
She is currently working on her second novel.