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Bassey Ikpi. Photo by David Asumah.

In 2004, while on tour with Def Poetry Jam, the Nigerian poet and spoken word artist Bassey Ikpi was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder. By 2011, she had taken on advocacy, writing and speaking about mental health, and then founded The Siwe Project, a nonprofit encouraging people to seek help, inspired by the death by suicide of a friend’s daughter. In 2013, on July 2, Ikpi spearheaded a “No Shame Day,” on which people were encouraged to speak on social media about their journeys. In 2017, HarperCollins imprint Harper Perennial announced that it would be releasing her first book, a memoir titled Making Friends with Giants. The 272-page book will now be available on 8 August 2019, with the new title I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying.

A collection of essays-as-memoir, I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying details Ikpi’s personal journey from childhood into adulthood, her diagnosis, and channeling of her life into art, providing an in-depth understanding of mental health and personal identity.

Here is a description by its publishers:

In I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying Bassey Bassey Ikpi explores her life—as a Nigerian-American immigrant, a black woman, a slam poet, a mother, a daughter, an artist—through the lens of her mental health and diagnosis of bipolar II and anxiety. Her remarkable memoir in essays implodes our preconceptions of the mind and normalcy as Bassey bares her own truths and lies for us all to behold with radical honesty and brutal intimacy.

From her early childhood in Nigeria through her adolescence in Oklahoma, Bassey Ikpi lived with a tumult of emotions, cycling between extreme euphoria and deep depression—sometimes within the course of a single day. By the time she was in her early twenties, Bassey was a spoken word artist and traveling with HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, channeling her life into art. But beneath the façade of the confident performer, Bassey’s mental health was in a precipitous decline, culminating in a breakdown that resulted in hospitalization and a diagnosis of Bipolar II.

In I’m Telling the Truth, But I’m Lying, Bassey Ikpi breaks open our understanding of mental health by giving us intimate access to her own. Exploring shame, confusion, medication, and family in the process, Bassey looks at how mental health impacts every aspect of our lives—how we appear to others, and more importantly to ourselves—and challenges our preconception about what it means to be “normal.”  Viscerally raw and honest, the result is an exploration of the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of who we are—and the ways, as honest as we try to be, each of these stories can also be a lie.

Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2019 by Bitch Magazine, the book has appeared on recommendation lists by Bustle, Publishers Weekly, Electric Literature, and Bookish. It has further been endorsed by the #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke:

I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying is a richness of layers, rewarding the reader no matter which particular thread got you here: the experience of being African-born and raised in America, the coming up of a gifted writer and performer, tracing the lineage of mental illness through several generations, or the fleshing out of the literal highs and lows of bipolar II. Like kudzu, symptoms blossom and lace themselves through Ikpi’s accomplishments and griefs, strangulating her from life’s sustenance (food, friends, sleep). Her vivid, heart-racing chapters on the living, breathing moments of bipolar, particularly ‘This is What Happens,’ will be assigned in coursework for years to come. Bassey Ikpi’s writing is a revelation, a thrill, devastating and uproarious, lively in its accurate depiction of the lack of boundaries between the terrible and the hilarious. I’m Telling the Truth is a feat, and will soon be the favorite book of many. It is already one of mine.

And by Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy:

We will not think or talk about mental health or normalcy the same after reading this momentous art object moonlighting as a colossal collection of essays.

Buy I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying HERE.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, journalist, & Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. The recipient of the inaugural The Future Awards Prize for Literature in 2019, he is a judge for The Gerald Kraak Prize and was a judge for The Morland Writing Scholarship in 2019. He is Nonfiction Editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is Curator at The Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His work in queer equality advocacy in literature has been profiled in Literary Hub. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He has an M.A. in African Studies and a combined honours B.A. in History & International Studies/English & Literary Studies, both from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He taught English in a private Nigerian university. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

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