An Indies Introduce Q&A with O.O. Sangoyomi

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O.O. Sangoyomi is the author of Masquerade, a Summer/Fall 2024 Indies Introduce adult selection and July 2024 Indie Next List pick. 

Matt Aragon – Shafi of West Side Books in Denver, Colorado, served on the bookseller panel that selected Sangoyomi’s book for Indies Introduce.

Masquerade is a magical debut with rich characters, challenging battles, wonderful West African myth and lore, all woven together to make a fresh historical read,” he said of the title.

Sangoyomi sat down with Aragon - Shafi to discuss her debut title.

This is a transcript of their discussion. You can listen to the interview on the ABA podcast, BookED.

Matt Aragon - Shafi: Hi everyone, my name is Matt Aragon - Shafi, and I am the manager of West Side Books. We're an indie book store in Denver, Colorado. And I'm so thankful to have a debut author here.

O.O. Sangoyomi is a Nigerian American author with a penchant for African mythology and history. During a childhood of constantly moving around within the US, she found an anchored home in the fictional world of books. Sangoyomi is a graduate of Princeton University, where she studied English and African American studies. Masquerade is her debut novel.

And we are so thankful to be joined by Oyin today. Thank you for coming, Oyin.

O.O. Sangoyomi: Thanks for having me, Matt. It's nice to speak with you again.

MAS: Yeah, I'm so thankful to have you here. I just finished Masquerade a couple days ago, and I did a little bit of the physical book and the audio book on And I loved both. The audio book was so awesome with helping me pronounce the names and kind of get the context of the culture. So I really enjoyed that, and I hope the reader of the audiobook gets credit as well as the writer, too.

OOS: Absolutely! My audio book, it was narrated by Ariel Blake, and she was fantastic. I really loved the effort that she put into bringing Òdòdó to life.

MAS: I wanted to say, just reading your book, was really a breath of fresh air. As a bookseller, I've been really getting into historical fiction. And I was like, “Wow, this is intense.” It's beautiful. It's cool. And I'm not gonna do any spoilers, but the ending was WOW. So, I was taken aback. And just to let you readers know out there, you're gonna want to read this one, Masquerade.

So, I'll get started with asking you some questions. The first one is, what would you like your readers to take from your debut?

OOS: Good question. The first and primary motivation I had for writing Masquerade was to highlight pre-colonial West African history, because I really wanted to see that in a book. I think that if readers take away more knowledge about that time period, or if they take away knowledge about Yoruba culture, that's really great, because I'm always happy to share my culture, I think it's so beautiful. I love that people are learning about it.

But ultimately, I think that Masquerade is just entertainment, it's fiction, and it's supposed to be art. It's not supposed to be anthropological. So, although I'm glad that readers might learn something about West African culture from it, I don't want it to be viewed as educational, and at the end of the day, I just hope it's a good story.

MAS: I love that. The story, it's just entertaining, and it brought me to a different world.

Let's see the next question. What does the main character, Òdòdó, represent to you?

OOS: Hmm! What I like about Òdòdó is that she feels real to me. You know all the good and bad things about humans. And that was really important to me, because I feel like I haven't seen very many African female characters in literature — and the ones that I have seen are usually more symbolic. They're supposed to be representative of their people. Or maybe they're supposed to be just a symbol in a revolution.

Òdòdó is an African woman, but that's not her whole identity, that's not where her problems are rooted in. Her problems are first and foremost rooted in her womanhood, and I think that she's someone who a lot of women can relate to, regardless of their backgrounds, because her story is just so universal among women. So, if she represents anything, I feel like it's the struggles that countless women have gone through all across the world, all across different time periods, and she's adding to that voice.

MAS: I really enjoyed her, and to be honest, I think the way she was written was not predictable to me, and I think that's important and fun and interesting. As an avid reader myself, I was like, she is intense, she's so smart — she's smarter than me. The decision she makes and why, I'm just like, “Wow, I'm blown away by that.”

OOS: Thank you. I definitely wanted her to have her own motivations, too. I feel like that helps with developing her. Instead of just doing what a hero might be expected to do, or rather, a protagonist. I think “hero” is too strong of a word for Òdòdó. What a protagonist is supposed to do. I wanted her to make her own choices.

MAS: And I could tell that. The time period she's in — she's very intelligent, careful, and doing what she needs to do as a woman in that “time period.”

OOS: Exactly.

MAS: You may have touched upon this question, but how important is the historical aspect of Masquerade?

OOS: The historical aspect of Masquerade is very important to me. I mentioned it was my primary motivation for going into writing Masquerade. In recent years there's been a really big rise in Afrofantasy and Afrofuturism in books. And that's been great, because it's brought more cultures and more people to mainstream media. But it's a bit of a double-edged sword, because it paints Africa as a fantastical place. Africa has so many different cultures with very long histories, and they deserve to be used as more than just the premise for building a secondary world. So I really wanted to root Masquerade in a real time period, and have real history in it to highlight that there doesn't need to be fantasy elements when it comes to African books. We have a lot of stories that we can tell as well.

MAS: The way you answer that is so wonderful. And I agree with you. I am a fan of African Futurism and Afrofuturism as well, and this is really cool to see this debut of a historical fiction novel. And we had spoken before, and when I first got your book, I mistakenly thought it was fantasy, and then I corrected myself, and I'm really glad I did. Because, as a bookseller, I want to convey the importance of your work in general.

OOS: Thank you. From what I've seen, it's been a common mistake. Many people [are] assuming Masquerade is fantasy, and I think that just speaks to all the more reason why I did this. It seems there's a presumption that anything in African culture is automatically fantasy, because that's what we're so used to. So I definitely wanted more strictly historical fiction when related to Africa.

MAS: You're building your tour right now. And there was an author I saw you with, and I think that author was a fantasy author. Is this stuff you're finding as your authorship grows? Do you find yourself paired, either correctly or incorrectly, with similar genre authors?

OOS: I think it's really hard to pair a book like Masquerade, because it's just not as common to see pre-colonial West Africa specifically in books, at least in my experience. So we've definitely branched out in conversation partners in relating, not just to that time period, but also to the themes of Masquerade — feminism, non-Western cultures, and even just pre-colonial times in other parts of the world. In the future, I really would like to speak with more pre-colonial West African books, or even just Africa in general. But for now, it's okay to find relations where we can.

MAS: That's great. Let's see, I think you kind of touched on this already. But maybe you could just glaze. What inspired you to write this tale?

OOS: So, I wrote Masquerade in my sophomore year of college. And that kind of came as a response to the classes that I was experiencing. I really wanted to learn more about African culture, African history, just anything that I could get my hands on, but I didn't find many classes about any of that. So I just took it upon myself to research pre-colonial Africa, and I was especially fascinated by the medieval West African time period, because there was just so much going on, and it was such a rich history. I've always been a writer, and the more that I read about that time period, the more inspired I became to write something in that time period. So that's how Masquerade came about.

MAS: As a writer, how do you navigate myth and religion in your writing? As a bookseller, I'll say why I asked this question. There's been a lot of stuff going on in the literary world where it's like, “Is this myth? Is this the culture's religion? Where should I put this book?” And that's why I kind of asked this question, because I think it is important with your book as it's historical fiction, not fantasy. 

OOS: Yeah, that's a great question. And it's especially relevant to Masquerade, because, it features what's commonly called Nigerian mythology. That's a really tricky term, because it is a real faith that's practiced even to this day by different peoples in West Africa and Latin America. So it was definitely something that I was very aware of while I was writing. I didn't want this to just be a fantasy, mythos, lore — this is actually a real practice, and it has specific ways that people go about it.

And since it's historical, it would be the most prevalent faith among the people in this region at this time, so I wanted to incorporate it like it's just a very natural way of life for them, it's everywhere in their world. And especially because the plot was inspired by Greek mythology, I really didn't want to mix those two pantheons, because they're so different. I didn't want to just say, “Here's the Nigerian equivalent of this Greek God,” because it's really different, the faith and the practices. So, I definitely was very mindful about paying both of those different beliefs and religions respect.

MAS: I love the way you answered that. And I think it is important, when I sell your book — I have an attitude when I sell books to customers where I like them to know a little bit what they're getting into. So I think it's important to have these discussions.

OOS: Absolutely. I appreciate that.

MAS: Everyone, this is O.O. Sangoyomi and her debut novel, Masquerade, will be available soon. And Oyin, if you have anything you'd like to share, please do.

OOS: That was great. Thank you so much for this. It was really nice talking about the historical aspect more than anything else, since that was such a large part of the book. So thank you.

MAS: Yeah, of course.

Masquerade by O.O. Sangoyomi (Forge Books, 9781250904294, Hardcover Mythology/Historical Fiction, $27.99) On Sale: 7/2/2024

Find out more about the author at

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