Yejide Kilanko never used to show her creative writing to anyone. But with her debut novel, Daughters Who Walk This Path, published this year, the Chatham-based social worker said she hopes the story will help abuse victims come out of their shells.
“If you’re able to get the right kind of support, the outcome can be different,” said Kilanko, who works as a counsellor with children and who used her experience as a child protection worker with Chatham-Kent Children’s Services to write the novel. “You might have that hurt still present in whatever form, but you can still move on,” she said.
Set in the Nigerian city of Ibadan in modern times, Daughters Who Walk This Path is the story of Morayo, a bright adolescent who finds herself with no one to turn to – not even her parents – after she is raped by her older cousin. Her Aunty Morenike, whose academic and political work inspires Morayo, gives her a safe place to share her secret and grow into a confident young woman.
The themes of difference and superstition are also explored through Morayo’s little sister Eniayo, who is albino.
Kilanko, a panelist at BookFest Windsor this year, said the story came out of a poem she wrote – one of the rare ones she shared with friends. They encouraged her to write a fuller story and get it published.
She purposely chose to set the novel in Nigeria to make even more evident the silence that abuse victims encounter, and also to generate some conversation back in Nigeria and in the diaspora.
Even though Canada is arguable better-equipped when it comes to counselling services, what she noticed as a social worker was that everywhere, people still tend to be very secretive when it comes to sexual abuse, Kilanko said.
Hearing what some of her clients were going through deeply affected her, but Morayo’s story is not drawn from any single experience, in order to protect the privacy of her clients.
As a writer from the Nigerian diaspora, one thing Kilanko said is very important is to make sure she painted an accurate and fair picture of the Nigeria in which she grew up.
“We tend to form a picture of a different culture based on what we read,” she said. While she certainly did not want to portray Nigeria with rose-tinted glasses, Kilanko said she also did not want to portray it negatively.
Although this was her first novel and she had never trained as a creative writer, it wasn’t the writing part that Kilanko found hard. Rather, it was finding an agent and publisher. “It’s like sending your child into the world,” she said, describing the feeling of sending out her manuscript to prospective agents in 2010.
Reviews of Daughters Who Walk This Path have likened some of Kilanko’s writing technique to that of famed Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, arguably the father of contemporary African literature.
Kilanko said the similarity is probably because she also uses Nigerian proverbs to start each of the book’s chapters.
“I love proverbs,” she said. “They capture things that you’d probably need a whole paragraph (to explain).”
She is definitely influenced by African women writers, especially the Nigerian-Belgian writer Chika Unigwe, as well as African-American writers like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. “I love books by women because I’m able to see myself in them,” she said.
Kilanko moved to southwestern Ontario in 2004 after some years in the U.S. The mother of three has a master’s degree in social work from the University of Windsor and started writing Daughters Who Walk This Path in 2009, after graduating and starting work in her field.
She has just finished her second novel – a story set between Nigeria and the U.S. which looks at domestic abuse – and is starting to research her third book.
Miraculously, she finds a way to do it all while caring for her kids and working full time. “It helps when you have a partner who understands,” Kilanko said, describing how her husband is very supportive of her love of writing.
A voracious reader, she likes to think that every book we read leaves something with us. In the case of Daughters Who Walk This Path, she wants to leave the reader – whether a victim of abuse, a family member, a young person or smeone older – with the feeling there is hope even after a horrific incident.
“It is possible for life to still be beautiful.”
Culled from The Windsor Star Online