Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Lola Opatayo 

Q&A with Alumni Award Recipient Lola Opatayo 

This year is the fourth year the Iceland Writers Retreat has offered the Alumni Award. This prestigious award is funded in by generous IWR alumni and friends. It gives its recipients full or partial funding to attend the next Retreat, which will take place April 3 to 7, 2019 in Reykjavik. The winners are chosen based on both merit and financial need, and submissions were reviewed by IWR alumni volunteers. We received over 600 applications from around the world and the quality of submissions was extremely high. Over the coming weeks, we will be posting Q&A’s with this year’s recipients of the Alumni Award, today’s with Lola Opatayo. You can read our Q&A with Dan Musgrave here!

Lola Opatayo holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Literature-in-English from the Obafemi Awolowo University, and an MA in Communications and Language Arts from the University of Ibadan. She works as an editor, blogger and teaches an online creative writing class- StoryCrafting. Lola has worked as a project manager with Writer’s Studio Africa. She blogs creative writing tips, news and resources at lolaopatayo.com.

Lola’s stories are centered on female reproductive, sexual and mental health issues. Her work has appeared in Obsidian. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

How did you find out about Iceland Writers Retreat originally?

I first heard about the retreat on Aerogramme. I was looking for retreats and residencies I could attend when it became obvious that I needed time to read and write exclusively.

Have you ever participated in a similar kind of retreat? If yes, how did the experience benefit your writing?

In 2011, I participated in a writer’s workshop hosted by the National Academy of Letters and sponsored by the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG). It was at a time when I wasn’t certain of my abilities as a writer.

The greatest thing it did for me was that it gave me exposure. I had never been in the company of so many talented artistic people before. I remember the late Ify Omalicha delivered an outstanding poetry performance. It was interesting to hear various insights on storytelling, and to participate in discussions about the challenges that Nigerian writers face. It became apparent to me that I had much to learn, and afterwards, I began to spend more time reading and studying.

How do you feel your work as an editor and teacher has impacted your own writing?

Being an editor and a teacher helps me to set high standards for myself. I think I have become a sort of perfectionist. I write and rewrite and keep looking for ways to make my work better.

It has also helped me to accept critiquing, because I recognise and understand the importance of revision and correction.

However, I also think it makes me second-guess myself often. When I get positive feedback on my works, I think, “Really? Are you sure?” So, I have to constantly remind myself that I have the capacity to produce quality work.

What are you most looking forward to about the Retreat?

The workshops and meeting other participants.

What and/or who do you find inspiring?

Lately, I’ve been reading stories by Lily Mabura and Imbolo Mbue and I have found their ability to tell deep, universal stories masked in simplicity, so inspiring.

I am also inspired by the intricacies of the human mind, and the paths it will take to love and hate, hide and reveal.

How has writing influenced your life?

I’m naturally introspective, but I think writing has made me even more so. I think very deeply about people, and not just people I know. I wonder a lot about life, and I feel. But most of all, I think writing has made me empathic.

What do you find to be your biggest challenge in your writing life?

Presently, that would be letting go. Every writing project involves the entirety of my being, and I’m always hesitant to lose myself to the trajectories of a story. When I’m done, I feel drained. I haven’t yet gotten used to it.

Any final comments you’d like to share with our followers?

Read and write. Repeat.


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