Brittle Paper’s Writer of the Month for February is Mifa Adejumo!
Mifa Adejumo is a writer from Edo State, Nigeria. He grew up and spent most of his formative years in Kogi State and is a graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka with a degree in Mathematics. He runs his substack newsletter platform called “Mifa Writes,” where he explores various personal themes in a bid to find meaning. He tends to enjoy his own company more than he does others, but will vehemently deny it when confronted.
He is the proud author of his self-published debut novel, Heartbeat, as well as two short story collections: There Are No Sinners Here and As Sweet As Red Oil Fries. Like his substack blog, most of his essays and stories are usually a reflection of his life experiences or those around him. With this keen interest in understanding human psychology and philosophy, it’s no surprise that he enjoys podcasts like Hidden Brain, Within Reason, and Philosophize This!
There is so much more to learn about Mifa so with further ado, let’s jump into our interview with him!
Mifa, congratulations on being our February Writer of the Month! Your piece “This Might Be Us” has been my favourite story from January for so many reasons. But, as always, before we get into why you are our January favourite, we need some backstory. How did Mifa Adejumo go from Mathematics degree graduate to becoming a writer?
Thank you so much for this honour, Tahzeeb. I lowkey feel as though I am undeserving of this. I would like to use this opportunity to declare my undying awe [read: crush] of you, Tahzeeb. At this point, you’re like the personification of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa to me. You are a gem and none of this would even be remotely possible without your kindness and passion for showcasing emerging African writers.
That being said, I’d like to state that this is probably the second time I had a “magazine feature” for something relating to what some would consider a talent. The first instance was way back in my uni days as an amateur rapper. I had a magazine feature with me looking all gangster on one of the pages and shit [laughs]. I remember I had to pay five thousand naira to get that feature. Seems like a small amount now, but back then, that was half my pocket money for a month.
I don’t mean to interrupt you but I did not expect the writing journey story to start with your history of being a rapper!
Yes, Mifa was a rapper in some version of his life. I breakdanced too for a bit. None of these were done on a professional level though. I just have this thing where if I like something and get a sense that I am good at it, I’d try it. I seldom make any huge splashes with my dives but I am often comforted by the memory of my efforts. My rapper name was “IHF” by the way. It stood for “I hate fear.” It was my way of trying to be daring with whatever dreams I had. I was young and it made sense to be that way. Now though, I cringe at some of the songs I recorded. But that’s who I am, often scared shitless about the future, yet on some days, daring enough to try out for the silliest dreams.
So, to finally answer your question without needless digressing, I would say I have always been a writer. But not in the cliche “I started writing when I was six” kinda way. I first actively dabbled with writing in my late teens. My father lost his job and the sheltered life I knew was upended. We had to move and life got harder for us as a family. So, I poured my worries into motivational books that I read. Soon enough, I found myself trying to regurgitate some of the concepts in my words. None of it makes any sense but back then it was almost therapeutic.
Throughout my secondary school days, I had a science background. But I hated math as a subject. I particularly hated it because my father was exceptionally good at it and it felt as though by not being good at it, I was disappointing him. It was a thorn in my flesh up until JSS3 when I was lucky to find a tutor in our neighbour, Mama Aisha. She was a math wiz and she helped me understand how you could only hate something you did not understand. Through her, I found I wasn’t as dumb as I thought. I grew to love the subject and just to prove that my love for the subject wasn’t fleeting, I chose to study it toward a degree.
But the writer in me was always there, lurking. In my head, I reckoned I chose to get a degree in Mathematics because I wanted my possible Nobel Prize in Literature to have a bio that would have people asking a version of the same question you have asked, “How can a mathematician be such an amazing wordsmith?” [laughs] Wishful thinking, eh? But truthfully, Mathematics felt like a romantic story of going from hating something to loving it. It was something I felt I needed to explore and see to what limits I could stay invested in that affection.
Mifa, I can honestly say that no writer has given such an in depth answer to the first question as you have. So, before we jump into your writing even more, I got some quick (less personal) questions to ask.
Do you have an all-time favourite book and why?
Khaled Hosseini’s And The Mountains Echoed. I read this about two years ago and every few months, I’d pick it up, admire it, sigh, and say to myself “As irreligious as I am, Heaven must be real because there is no way writers like Khaled Hosseini are not from the realm of the gods.”
I have always loved the human story. I have always wanted to tell stories that explore the human condition in a way that feel real and surreal without any fantastical element. And The Mountains Echoed is the blueprint, in my opinion, of how to tell a human story through empathetic eyes. Just thinking of that book brings tears to my eyes right now.
There’s a section of the book where Dr Idris opens the signed book from Roshi and sees the comment from her that reads, “Don’t worry. You’re not in it.” It was such an incredible moment of human kindness that had a tint of pettiness befitting of a character who thought of himself as more righteous than others but was all talk and no action. It was so beautifully crafted that despite how insincere Idris had been to a younger Roshi, you felt a tinge of empathy for him.
Any writer who can make you feel empathetic towards morally grey characters is a god in my eyes. I think of writers like this and I begin to doubt if I have the right to pick up a pen and try to be like them. These writers have mastered the art of storytelling that is so transcendental it might as well be a direct narration from the gods themselves. Phew! That book is a masterpiece.
Have you ever read a book and thought, “Why are people not talking about this enough?!” And have you ever read a book and thought, “People are talking way too much about this, and I don’t get why?”
I hope this doesn’t cause a ruckus in the literary space but Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah is one book that isn’t talked about enough. That book is masterfully written. In my humble opinion, it is a much better masterpiece than everyone’s favourite, Things Fall Apart. I am open to being quoted anywhere on that. Things Fall Apart is our literary solar system as African writers but Anthills of the Savannah is the entire universe. It is that good.
Another underrated book would be Women Talking by Miriam Toews. It is a masterpiece that people don’t talk about enough. A movie was made based on it and somehow it still did not get enough buzz in my opinion. That book is so good, I think it should be framed in a museum, next to my version of the Mona Lisa (you, Tahzeeb) just for the mere fact that it depicts how brilliant people can be with their pen in telling stories of human history and highlight the importance of equality and values through the lens of fiction.
For books that I think people talk way too much about, I cannot say for sure. I’ve only ever read books that have appealed to me. I am not one to seek out books because of how popular they are or how people talk about them. For me, it often starts with me connecting with the writer in some way. If I am intrigued enough by what the writer represents, I’d be keen to read their works and sure enough, most times, I end up loving it.
“Things Fall Apart is our literary solar system as African writers but Anthills of the Savannah is the entire universe” is a gorgeous description!
Finally, and my favourite question, if you could have a dinner party with your favourite artists, who would they be?
Eminem, the rapper will be my first invite. I’ll probably play one of my old uni rap mixtapes and ask what he thinks. Then, if I had the power of resurrection, I’d bring back David Foster Wallace and ask him how he was inspired to write This is Water. That piece is one of the most beautiful things ever written by a man. In addition, I’d also love to have Enya as part of the dinner guests. That woman’s voice is so angelic, it’s otherworldly. Phew!
The rest of the party guests would be my writing and creative peers. And yes, this is a shameless plug for all my creative and non-creative friends, known and unknown. They are all artists in their own right. So, I’ll invite Olatomi Popoola (podcaster), Ibrahim Oga (poet and writer), Efe Ogufere (poet), Jennifer Otoo (writer), Dennis Ade Peter (music writer), Maryjane Nwansi (writer), Ifedolapo Oseni (writer), Oseromore Ojeaga (writer & poet), Rotimi Akinbiyi (Graphic Designer), Zhay Valentine (writer and poet), Oluchukwu Ukachukwu (spoken word poet) and so many others I can’t list out here.
These are my favourite artists not because they are household names you’d recognize, but rather because they have always motivated me to be better as a person and as a writer. I reckon that as guests to this hypothetical party, they’d bring the best of vibes. And as a continued shameless plug, please go check out an amazing collection of poems by Ibrahim Oga, We Don’t Understand This Weather on Amazon. It’s about the effect of climate change and it’s a masterpiece. Also, a quick search of any of the names I mentioned will lead you to some of the brilliant works of these folks. I am immensely proud of all of them.
Now, let’s chat about your January piece, “This Might Be Us.” That story is unbelievably cute and wholesome! It’s so relatable for so many reasons and I think anyone with a special someone will find something in it that makes them think of their person. Now, people who follow you on Twitter but already have a hunch, but tell us what/who inspired this story?
[Laughs] First off, I want to say that I am the sort of guy who can be romantically enamoured by more than one woman at the same time. Technically, in some circles, that statement brands me as an “ashewo” —a man whore. But I have always believed the essence of true love and romantic affection isn’t possessive. I do not have to own anyone exclusively to love them intentionally.
Secondly, the story “This Might Be Us” was inspired after I got into a budding open relationship with an amazing goddess called “Zhay.” I call her a goddess because she is exactly that. The naming of the character in that story, Isis, was intentional. Isis is the Egyptian Goddess of love, healing, fertility, and the moon. Zhay, my muse for this story, is proudly a daughter of Osun. She’s very spiritual and exudes the vibes of a deity.
Ours was a pairing that seemed off at first. I am proudly agnostic (bordering on atheistic) and yet I saw the beauty in her beliefs. I admired her for how in touch with her unconventional spiritual side she was. So, when she had to move abroad to study for her master’s, I imagined how our love story would play out in an alternate world. The backstory of the dates between both characters in this story was inspired by my dates with her. I wanted to immortalize her in a way that was befitting of the goddess that she is.
As I said about being a huge fan of the human experience in stories, I also wanted to tell a love story that felt modern but was still quite traditional. I wanted to explore the expression of affection even in the absence of physical touch. I wanted to tell a story of how, in one moment, two people who genuinely care about each other can also have moments of doubt about their affections until they remind themselves of what truly matters. For this reason, the start of the story hints at the character Isis almost being bored with her conversation with her partner until slowly she is reminded of the person she fell in love with in the first place. And ultimately, in the end, that’s all that matters: having someone who can remind you of why you are worth it.
You do a brilliant job in giving us glimpses into this couple’s relationship:
A sense of calm spread across her body. Those words coming from him felt as sincere as him asking her about how she’s been. It felt as sincere as him noting that she was particularly non-verbal on this occasion but being comfortable with letting her be herself.
What I love is that when people often try to write love stories, they worry about fitting in the relationship’s beginning, middle and end, and at least one part will end up feeling rushed. But you took just a tiny piece of this couple’s life, just a brief call between them, and made a gorgeous little story out of it, and I loved it!
You captured the essence of that story perfectly. In statistics, there’s this concept of sample size. You take a small sample of a whole system and use that to evaluate the entirety of the system. It’s the same concept applied in some way in this story. I wanted to capture a singular moment in time for this couple and explore how they see each other in their entirety. I believe that when it comes to relationships, it gets to a point where every moment begins to seem boring and repetitive. But I also believe that if you look closely at such moments, you can easily catch a glimpse of the glue that binds such relationships together.
Personally, my idea of love has always been about moments. I once told a friend that I don’t think finding true love or a soul mate means permanence. True love can be fleeting. You can meet someone today and fall in love with them and you guys go on to have the best two weeks of your lives and then it’s over. Short as it may seem, it doesn’t make the love or affection any less true. What matters isn’t longevity but the sincerity of the important moments. And in the story “This Might Be Us” I tried to explore that idea. A regular FaceTime call was able to show us how sometimes we have to actively be reminded of our self-worth through the subtle actions, affirmations, and memories of our partners to be able to soldier on daily in our quest for happiness and fulfilment.
The key to any good romantic relationship is having good memories to fall back on, especially on days when you may not particularly feel at the height of your affection for your partner. As such, in this story, the more Isis remembered the kind of affable and kind person her partner was, the easier it was to stay in love with him in the moment, even on what would have otherwise been one of her worst days.
That’s a beautiful freeing way of describing and viewing love.
You have two big published works under your writer’s belt. There’s your short story collection, There Are No Sinners Here, and your debut novel, Heartbeat. For those who are unfamiliar, what can you tell us about these books?
Yeah, these are self-published works, I should add. I’ve gotten so many rejections from publishers for my work, that I decided I could do it myself [laughs] Yay me!!
Heartbeat was a story I wrote in 2010 and got the funds to self-publish in 2020. It has hints of my past life as a religious person with hints of the lingering doubt that I had to come to terms with explored in the protagonist, Collins. I consider the book a love letter to the budding young writer in me in 2010 who wanted so badly to become a published author. I remember the first draft of this novel was handwritten in a notebook. I also remember it having a much more positive ending than it does now. But all in all, it is a great story of love, loss, the divine, fate, and all that good stuff.
There Are No Sinners Here is my second collection of short stories. As Sweet as Red Oil Fries was my first and this is also available for digital download. Again, the idea of not wanting to wait forever to find that one publication that would deem my stories worth it, pushed me to put out these collections. Most of the stories in both collections have been sent out and returned with a rejection tag on them. So, in some sense, these collections are my subtle way of giving these stories a new home and the stamp of approval that they were unable to find in the harsh lands of literary publications. Because to be honest, my stories are awesome!
There Are No Sinners Here explores more mature themes like sex, death, suicide, and revenge. If it were a movie, it would have an “R” rating. It’s a collection I am very proud of because it was published on the last day of December 2023. It was my way of saying goodbye to 2023 and welcoming 2024 on a fresh slate. I’d encourage more people to read it not because of how revolutionary the stories are but rather because of how intrinsically human they are. If there’s anything about my style of writing that I’d consider a strength, it would be my ability to tell simple, human stories with as much empathy as I can muster for my characters. Almost like the literary god himself, Khaled Hosseini does.
Talking about favourite writers, you’ve been an all-round favourite this past month in the Brittle Paper (virtual) office because not only do we love your work, you have also kept us entertained through your social media! I’ve mentioned your tweet, where you posted your messages with the muse of “This Might Be Us,” but you also did a montage of all the unfortunate times I’ve passed on your work until I accepted the recent piece. Not to glamourise the rejection process, which I can imagine is a gruelling one, but how did you find the journey?
[Laughs] I can’t believe you guys saw those posts [laughs] I am so shy right now. Come to think of it, I did tag you guys on most of them so, yeah, I probably hoped you guys would see them. One of the best days of my life last year was probably that moment when I got the acceptance email from you. It was like all my dreams came true. If I wasn’t so scared of heights, I’d have found a high-rise building, leapt off it, and flown. In all honesty, most of my posts after my recent piece was accepted and published were made because I was super excited. I wanted to celebrate the little [read: big] wins as well as give due credit to the muse who inspired it. I also really loved the song “High” by Young Rising Sons used in the montage. I remember months before I had done a similar montage that wasn’t so positive using that song and I wanted to have a full circle moment of sorts.
Nevertheless, in my first draft answer to the part of this question regarding rejection, I had taken the motivational route. I wrote something about how for a writer, rejection should be seen as “failing forward” and not an indication of a lack of any sort of literary talent. I also waxed lyrical about how when you fail forward it means you can keep moving and growing as a writer. Truth be told, I am far from being a motivational speaker. The reason I went that route at first was that I was in a good mood. I just learned I was selected as the WOTM at your prestigious literary platform, and I was floating on cloud nine and a half.
Two hours later, however, I received an email from another literary magazine —Isele— where I had submitted one of my stories. Surprise-surprise, enclosed in the email was a rejection notification, nine months after I submitted said story. Now, you’d think with the high I was on about getting WOTM on Brittle Paper, it wouldn’t sting as much to get another story rejected by Isele, but you’d be wrong. I daresay, it stung even more. Why? I have no idea. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that as writers we are probably the most needy humans on earth when it comes to how much we seek external validation even though we claim that when we write we “do it for the love of it.” Or maybe it’s because having to wait nine months to get a negative update on a submitted story feels entirely cruel even when it wasn’t intended to be that way by the publication. Who knows?
It could be a lot of things. But one thing I know is that rejection, no matter how great you are at your craft, always stings. It stings spectacularly worse when everything else doesn’t seem to be working in your favour or actively seems to be working to end you — like living in a godforsaken country like Nigeria. For me, rejection stings more than I’d even like to admit here. I’ve been out of a job for ten months so far and my writing is probably the only sense of worth that keeps me tethered to reality. So, getting a rejection doesn’t just spell doom, it also waters the seed of doubt that I already have to struggle with daily.
I once sent a voice note to a writer friend of mine, Ibrahim Oga, almost in tears as I told him I was done with how frustrating my life was, job search-wise and writing-wise. In one day, last year, I remember getting five different rejection emails for my stories. Add that to the rejection emails from job applications too. Truth be told, there are days when I cry silent tears that soak my pillow as I wonder if this path of being a writer isn’t just my sense of wishful thinking playing a cruel trick on me and waiting to jump out and go “Psyche! You thought you were a good writer, eh? Jokes on you.”
With that in mind, what would you tell writers that have started their writing journey and are worried about the rejections and challenges?
So, dear emerging writer, I could tell you that you only have to keep working hard at your craft and one day the stars will align. But I doubt you’d want to hear that. I reckon that you’ve probably heard it a million times already. Yes, indeed, sometimes the stars do align. Sometimes you do get that one win that feels worth all the hurt and pain of myriads of rejections just like I did when I received Tahzeeb’s email about my story “This Might Be Us.” But trust me when I say, even with such wins the pain of piled-up rejections never dissipates. I firmly believe that as a writer, rejection is like grief: it never truly leaves you, you just somehow learn to painfully coexist with it.
So, as an emerging writer reading this, I will say this to you as clearly as I can: it is going to be tough. Some of you might be luckier than others. Trust me, luck plays a huge part. Some of you might not be. This is for those who might not be. Those who would likely spend long nights writing and believing in their own words only to have someone else tell them their stories “are not a good fit for us.” This will hurt more than you know. And if this is an art form that you truly love, it will hurt even more. But, even on the verge of a million rejections, one thing is certain, if you truly love this art form, you’ll always find a way to continue writing. The truth is that you’re not a writer because of the validation a literary magazine’s acceptance echoes, as welcoming as that confirmation might be. You’re a writer because what you do is write and create. At the end of the day, that’s the only thing you have control over. Come rain, come shine; regardless of the hundreds of rejection emails you’d inevitably come across on your journey, you can always choose to keep on writing —to keep on creating.
I try to make that choice almost daily. Some days are better than others. But I try as much as possible to take cognizance of the better days, endure the worse ones, and hope to whatever deity —or lack of one— that informs my pen, that the future bears some good news. So, keep writing, young blood. Never stop.
On Friday, your new short story will be published and it’s called, “Her, Always.” Is this another love story? What can we look forward to on Friday?
Yes, it is another love story. I will just say that like the recently published story, “This Might Be Us,” you guys can expect a familiar human story of the enduring beauty of love. It was inspired by another woman I love (Hey Cynthia!) [laughs] After I wrote the first draft, I made sure to share it with her and she loved it. It was inspired by a conversation she and I were having and I remember I wrote the entire first draft in twenty minutes or less.
Readers can look forward to reading a story that explores the human condition concerning love in a way that tugs at your heartstrings. The question I hope this story asks is this: do we have a say in who we choose to love, especially when such a love isn’t necessarily reciprocated? I say we don’t. But I can’t wait to hear what you guys think.
Before we go, apart from your writing, Mifa, what is one thing about yourself that you want to share with our readers?
Hmm, let me see. Well, Mifa has never been on a plane [laughs] I know it sounds random and almost unbelievable because I am from Edo State, Nigeria and we are mostly known for our flying abilities (ask about us). But yeah, I have never soared the skies at a high enough altitude to touch the clouds, which I guess is why I try with my writing to reach such heights.
Also, Mifa could improve at taking compliments instead of running away from them. Some might see it as humility but in reality, it’s utter dread. I always want to return a compliment with more compliments as though I am trying to win a war of compliments in a bid to get the other person to call it quits. I have this constant dread that I am undeserving of compliments even though I am the same person who would scold anyone I hold dear who expresses such concerns when I compliment them sincerely. I just suck at it and do not practice what I preach [laughs]
Last but not least, and probably the most important of all, Mifa believes women are the best thing to happen to mankind since the extinction of Dinosaurs and the invention of Jollof rice and asun. Mifa loves women of all shapes and sizes. I am inspired by their resilience, their grits, their wit, their drive, their beauty, and so much more. I don’t believe that there is a God, but I reckon if there was one, she’s probably a woman — a very gorgeous woman, I must add. So, on this note of my loving women, I’d like to use this platform to shout out to the gorgeous and resplendent ex-Big Brother Naija’s housemate, Vee. I’d like to use this platform to ask her if she’d be open to making my dreams come true and falling in love with me even if it would only be for a day.
Call or email me, Vee! Who knows, my next Brittle Paper short story might just be about out love [laughs]
I think by now, we are well aware of your immense ability to find new loves, Mifa [laughs]. Thank you for this interview, and for being such a joy in all of our conversations! January has been such an entertaining month because of it.
For more of Mifa’s work, be sure to check back in on Friday, and for more interviews with our writers, check out December’s with Kawira Koome here.