Brittle Paper’s Writer of the Month for November is Evaleni Lawson!
Evaleni is a Nigerian writer currently studying Communication Arts at the University of Uyo. Growing up in Lagos, she always looked up to Wole Soyinka as her inspiration and dreamed of becoming a writer. Now, she’s that and more.
Besides writing and studying, Evaleni is part of her school radio station, co-hosts Happy Broadcast Show, guest-blogs from time to time, and works as a content strategist with Weirdsid3. The 18-year-old believes that as soon as you quit trying to fit in, you can do what you want to do. She loves unconventional art, which is why you can find her listening to alternative music and experimenting with different styles of literature.
Her short-term goals include starting a new podcast and running off to South Africa to start a new life with her imaginary cat, Rusty, not particularly in that order. So, with introductions over, let’s jump into this month’s Writer of the Month interview.
Evaleni, congratulations on being November Writer of the Month! Your piece “Drifting in Black Tea” was such a standout piece, and it stole the month’s limelight. I guess it’s no surprise that someone so talented with a pen is also a journalism student. What sparked this love for writing and how long have you been doing it?
First of all, I’d love to say thank you. Thank you for making me the Writer of the Month! I wasn’t expecting it. In fact, I was quite sceptical about my piece reaching this far.
Writing for me is more than a physical process. It’s something I put all of my heart into. I know this statement is hackneyed, but I’ve been writing unprofessionally for a long time — since I was four or five. People around me regarded me as a genius because I could create scenarios offhand. Kids my age copied from storybooks but there I was, writing and drawing like I had a pen placed in my palm since birth. I wanted to be an activist or a writer. I wanted to be heard, seen, discovered. That’s why I fell in love with journalism. There is beauty in seeing yourself on TV or hearing your voice on radio or seeing your name pop up in newspapers and on phone screens.
I pushed out of my shell in 2022 and gave submissions a shot. I wasn’t accepted the first time. In fact, my mail was never replied to. I missed every contest I entered and was already feeling like a loser. So, imagine how excited I was when I was contacted by Fiction Niche, and how super pumped up I was when Brittle Paper, the love of my life, sent me an acceptance mail.
So, you have been creating from a very young age and you have always felt an impulse to be heard. Was or is there anyone in particular in the creative world that helped inspire you?
My biggest inspiration was Wole Soyinka. I still believe he is. I grew up loving his use of language. It was super smooth and elite! Very recently, I also began to love Tomi Adeyemi, the writer of Children of Blood and Bones. How she used fantasy to express the plight of her black companions really struck me.
I guess it is a bit of a collaborative effort when it comes to inspiring me. In the literary scene, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, and Tomi Adeyemi inspire me to aim for more. The literati around me inspire me to never give up. Innie and Reediwan inspire me to stop beating myself up. And then there’s me. I’m my biggest inspiration, that and my very big dreams.
[laughs] And just how big are these dreams?
My dreams are big enough to swallow me.
The wildest thing I’ve ever done to pursue my dreams so far was when I purchased a smartphone with my school fees. I’ll say this any day, it was the biggest gamble I’ve ever made — and a gamble I don’t regret in any way. If I hadn’t done so, I’d still be closed under a bushel. I would not have been discovered. My work would have never been accepted by magazines!
Every day I think of the time when I’ll impact people with literature. I think of becoming a professor, working with the BBC, and becoming a very educated young woman.
You are already an exceptionally brilliant young woman, so I think you are well on your way to achieving those dreams. And as a true creative, you are not just a writer, but also a podcaster, among many other things, I’m sure.
How different is the process of creating a podcast session compared to writing? And do you prefer the collaborative podcast process or the individual writer one?
I am many more things, sadly. But I’m not going to talk about them until I’ve answered your question.
For me the creative process is very similar — you get to think, brainstorm, make an outline, research, ask questions, look for credible sources, decide your audience and general theme, tailor your content and write a script. So, it’s super similar.
I think I am what you would call a ‘reactive podcaster’. I work better with scripts. That’s why I prefer the collaborative podcast process. I’ll bore you if I solo-host a show.
I disagree with that last comment. As someone who has read your work multiple times over the past few days, I don’t see myself getting bored.
When I saw the submission of “Drifting in Black Tea”, I skimmed through it and immediately knew I would be accepting it, and then after accepting it, I reread it about three times. The first time, I thought this would be one of those complicated stories that confuse you, but you still love it at the end. The second read made me appreciate the minor details more, and I also thought Nedu sounded adorable. The final time I read it, I realised I had read the piece about four times and wasn’t the least bit tired of it.
What inspired that particular story?
Truth inspired it. Reincarnation and my belief in fantasy inspired it — that’s all I can say. I have always wanted to write a piece about reincarnation and time travel. So, one Saturday, when I got the name, Abike, I jotted her down. The scenes came in bits — time travel and her search for truth being the first.
Initially, I wanted to submit this piece to a paid magazine — I don’t know what you call it. Those magazines that pay you if your work gets accepted— so, I tweaked it a little to fit the theme of motion. Motion in this sense involves one flitting across the present and the past. But I couldn’t submit it. So, the next day, I submitted it to Brittle Paper instead.
In “Drifting in Black Tea”, I was deep in reflection. I’m in this phase where I question lots of things — “DiBT” was one of those times. These days I keep asking myself about cultures and religions and mindsets and people. That was when I asked myself ‘what happens during reincarnation?’
I’m glad you loved Nedu’s character! I do as well.
Your piece, “Iyäko”, was recently published in Fiction Niche’s last issue, Mosaic. I read that piece and the second I did it reminded me of the opening line in your bio, “Evaleni loves penning down fictional empires”. You have such a knack for bridging the gap between the fantasy world and the ordinary reality we live in. Is this something you do in all of your fiction writing?
It’s something I’m too used to. I did it in the first story I wrote as a kid. I keep repeating the cycle as I grow. My growth in a spiritual, Christian-believing family is a rich background for such write-ups.
I have an inclination to unconventional stories with bright, explosive narratives. My head is too busy creating empires upon empires and that’s my problem. I live in my head. And while this is a wonderful experience, it pushes me to write stories that completely erode logic.
But that’s not what I do in every piece of writing.
I guess that means we cannot assume what the next one will be like on Friday. Without giving too much away, what can you tell our readers about Friday’s story? Is it unlike what we have read from you before?
Well… if you’re a fan of new-school horror troupes and ecological horror, then this is for you. It’s the excerpt from a short story I abandoned writing because of exams. I won’t reveal its name. You’ll find out on Friday.
This has been a really interesting chat and I have no doubt that we could keep this going for a while. But, sadly, we are at the end so if you have any final thoughts you want to share with our readers, now is the chance.
Like I said earlier, I’m many things. A writer (most importantly) but also a songwriter, alternative music artist, content strategist with Weirdsid3, student journalist, OAP, and all-around creative. I got enrolled in a digital school last month, Digital AdExpert Aleph — so you can add digital marketer to the mix. And I have been busy with organising all of my abilities, so I don’t get burnout because, I won’t say I’m scatterbrained, but I’m really scatterbrained. Ideas come and go, and fly across any time. It takes a grounded person to act normal if they were to be in my shoes.
Presently, I have my eyes on Zikoko. I want to work with them. I don’t know why this is out here, but I want to get to them. And finally, I really look forward to Gen Z writers creating more stellar narratives. I want a daring army of Gen Z creatives to take the scene in the next ten years.
So, those are many final thoughts.
Evaleni, this has been such a pleasure and again, I am so happy we get to share your work with our readers, and I cannot wait for Friday. Here is to accomplishing everything on your ever-growing list, and if you do ever run away to South Africa, coffee is on me!
For more of Evaleni’s work, be sure to check back in on Friday, and for more interviews with our writers, check out our last month’s with Mwende Makulu here.