Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 5,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

Ato Quayson 2

As any avid reader knows, books define us. Things we read brand us. They become part of our intellectual DNA, defining who we are, our moral compass, our emotional lives, and even how we encounter future books.

Maybe that’s why it’s always so fascinating to see what people read at key moments in their lives. A few weeks ago, I wrote about Nigerian novelist Chibundu Onuzo and the remarkable collection of books she read in her childhood. [click here if you missed it.] Through that expansive catalogue of books that ranged from Nancy Drew to Chinua Achebe, Onuzo gave us a glimpse into the making of a novelist’s mind. It was illuminating to see how her taste evolved over the years and the moment she made a meaningful connection to African literature.

What about a literature professor? What book could be so powerful that it would move the reader to devote his or her life to studying literature?

Meet Professor Ato Quayson. He was born in Ghana, did his doctorate at Cambridge, and currently holds a position at the University of Toronto. He is a prominent professor of African literature—one among many reasons why he is chairing the panel of judges for the 2016 Etisalat Prize for African Literature.

Quayson’s upbringing was literary. His father loved to read. His mother loved to tell stories.

A surprising little detail is that Prof. Quayson had trouble reading for a good part of his childhood. But when he finally learned how to read properly—he was 8 years old—there was no stopping him. He consumed everything in this father’s modest home library and frequented public libraries, including the British Council library.

He loved reading so much that he’d sneak out of school to visit Accra Public Library some 60 miles away. His reading was purely driven by curiosity. It had nothing to do with school work or exams. Halfway through his teenage years, he had read and reread everything from The Count of Monte CristoThings Fall Apart to One Hundred Years of Solitude

He was 17 when he found a book titled The Interpretation of Dreams in a library. He read the whole thing cover to cover three times within two weeks and then something interesting happened:

I could not read anything else while I had The Interpretation of Dreams. I proceeded, without even being fully aware of it, of interpreting dreams for my friends in what I thought to be the true Freudian manner. There was sex lurking in every manifest dream content, I opined seriously. And my own dreams became multiple and most vivid. I read TheInterpretation of Dreams another three times by the time I was 25.

He didn’t end up making a living from interpreting dreams, but Freud’s classic did contribute to his becoming a literary scholar. If dreams are essentially stories with hidden meanings, the skills used to interpret them would also apply to the interpretation of literary texts. Freud’s book taught him how to appreciate stories beyond their face-value.

Do you think Freud could have imagined that his strange book about dreams published in 1899 would inspire a Ghanaian kid to become one of Africa’s most influential literary scholars?

Truly inspiring story. click here to read the full essay.

What’s your reading story? What books changed your life?

 

Tags: , , , ,

Ainehi Edoro is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches African literature. She received her doctorate at Duke University. She is the founder and editor of Brittle Paper and series editor of Ohio University Press’s Modern African Writer’s imprint.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

The 2021 Aspen Words Literary Prize is Now Open for Entry

Apply for the 2021 Aspen Words Literary Prize

The Aspen Words Literary Prize is open for entry as of today. The $35,000 prize annually rewards an “influential work […]

July 10 | Sarah Ladipo Manyika Hosts Strive Masiyiwa on Conversations Across the Diaspora

July 10 _ Sarah Ladipo Manyika Hosts Strive Masiyiwas on Conversations Across the Diaspora

Sarah Ladipo Manyika, author of In Dependence (2008) and Like A Mule Bringing Ice Cream To The Sun (2016), has teamed up […]

Bernardine Evaristo Becomes First Black Writer to Win Author of the Year

Bernardine Evaristo Becomes First Black Writer to Win Author of the Year in the British Book Awards

  Bernardine Evaristo’s winning streak continues as she dominates two categories of the 2020 British Book Awards: Best Fiction Book […]

Apply for the 2020 Morland Writing Scholarship | £27,000 for Nonfiction, £18,000 Fiction

Apply for the 2020 Miles Morland Writing Scholarship

The Miles Morland Foundation is currently accepting applications for the 2020 Morland African Writing Scholarships. The awards offer a fiction […]

The Million Naira Nigeria Prize for Difference and Diversity | Here is How to Nominate Someone

The Million Naira Nigeria Prize for Difference and Diversity _ Here is How to Nominate Someone

Nominations for The Nigeria Prize for Difference & Diversity is officially open. The new prize, co-presented by digital media platform […]

This is Why I am Endowing a N1 Million Prize for Difference and Diversity in Nigeria | Chude Jideonwo

This is Why I am Endowing a N1 Million Prize for Difference and Diversity in Nigeria _ Chude Jideonwo (2)

Last year, I wrote a piece on CNN during Pride Month​—​a month set aside to celebrate sexual and gender diversity […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.