An Indies Introduce Q&A with Ani Kayode Somtochukwu

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Ani Kayode Somtochukwu, author of "And Then He Sang a Lullaby"Ani Kayode Somtochukwu is the author of And Then He Sang a Lullaby, a Summer/Fall 2023 Indies Introduce selection.

Ani is an award-winning Nigerian writer and queer liberation activist. His work interrogates themes of queer identity, resistance, and liberation. His writings have appeared in literary magazines across Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America.

A note on naming: Following Nigerian naming conventions, family names come first in the name order, followed by the given first and “middle” names. This author’s family name, corresponding to a “last name” in most European and American names, is Ani.

Christine Bollow of Loyalty Bookstores in Washington, DC and Silver Spring, Maryland, served on the panel that selected Ani’s debut for Indies Introduce. Bollow said of the book, “Heartbreaking yet hopeful, And Then He Sang a Lullaby is an incredibly powerful debut for fans of The Death of Vivek Oji. August and Segun are two young college students in Nigeria seeking intimacy and connection while fighting against internal and societal shame and homophobia. Ani Kayode Somtochukwu’s memorable characters and stunning prose broke me, put me back together, and will forever hold a special place in my heart.”

Here, Bollow and Ani discuss And Then He Sang a Lullaby.

Christine Bollow: What was the first kernel of inspiration for And Then He Sang a Lullaby? Was it character or story first for you?

Ani Kayode Somtochukwu: I first thought of And Then He Sang a Lullaby while I was working as a Medical Laboratory Assistant. I didn't have a plot plan. I was just interested in August and his life, and the way the burden of masculinity can follow us from even before we are born, shaping every facet of our life, our desires, our chance at happiness.

It was a very character-driven story from the very beginning. First, just August and then Segun as well. I knew who these people are and I wanted to write about them, and I let the story lead me where it wanted.

CB: Politics and queer liberation activism play an integral role in the book and in August and Segun’s lives. How has your experience as an activist informed the book? Do you think writing your novel has changed the role activism plays in your own life? 

AKS: I consider my writing an extension of my political work. My experience of the queer liberation struggle over the years influences so much about my work, tethers me to a particular type of story and a particular type of characters from a particular type of background. I don't think this is a decision without political implications. I love that my work centers working class people and struggle and wouldn't have it any other way. It taught me a lot as well. I wouldn’t say it changed the role activism plays in my life, but it definitely helped me grow ideologically. There are conversations on hope and fatalism that I think I grasped better from the experience of writing this book.

CB: There is so much going on in this book and I truly felt ALL the feelings reading it. Out of everything though, I think the moments of tenderness in the story and between August and Segun are what will stay with me the most. Why was it important to you to capture these beautifully tender moments? How did you decide when those moments were needed for both the characters and the reader?

AKS: Thank you. It means a lot to hear someone say that. I want to think And Then He Sang a Lullaby celebrates and imagines what queer love can be, even under a state of criminalization and fascistic dehumanization. As queer Africans, we are all buckling under a society whose every avenue of socialization tells us we are unworthy of love, and this affects our ability not only to imagine love, but our ability to let down our defenses and let ourselves be loved. I wanted to explore love like that. Love that is unbound by the reality of queerphobic oppression, that tries to survive against all odds, a love that is tender and consuming. 

CB: And Then He Sang a Lullaby is the first book being published by Roxane Gay’s imprint! How has the experience been for you as a debut author? Has it been what you expected or have there been some surprising things in the lead up to your book publishing?

AKS: It's been quite a fast-paced and hectic process. I appreciate Roxane’s approach to publishing very much. She was my editor as well, and from the very beginning, she demonstrated that she was interested in helping me realize my vision for this book. I never felt any pressure to sanitize, or to over explain or water down my book for a western audience. It’s a freedom most debut authors from Nigeria don't get with their western publishers. And I’m not unaware that I got quite lucky to have an editor that understood the importance of that sort of editorial liberty for authors from the Global South.

CB: What are some other books that you think And Then He Sang a Lullaby is in conversation with? What do you hope readers will get out of reading your book?

AKS: That’s an interesting question. I have never thought about it as in conversation with other books. If anything, I think I looked at it as in conversation with the community, the Nigerian queer community in particular, but of course more widely the African queer community. A conversation about love, about decolonial queer liberation struggle, about resistance, and the hope of freedom.

But on further thought, so many queer Africans are exploring the terrains of African queerness in such fascinating ways, and perhaps this book is a furtherance of that conversation. Authors like Koleka Putuma and Chinelo Okparanta and Buki Papillon and Akwaeke Emezi and Romeo Oriogun and Logan February and so many others.

And Then He Sang a Lullaby by Ani Kayode Somtochukwu (Roxane Gay Books, 9780802160751, Hardcover Fiction, $27) On Sale: 6/6/2023.

ABA member stores are invited to use this interview or any others in our series of Q&As with Indies Introduce debut authors in newsletters and social media and in online and in-store promotions. Please let us know if you do.