“this is not about sadness” by Olumide Popoola
About the Author
London-based Nigerian-German Olumide Popoola is a writer and performer and presents internationally. She is the recipient of the May Ayim Award (category poetry) and currently a PhD candidate in creative writing at the University of East London, for which she is producing a cross-genre novel.
Her work has appeared in anthologies, academic publications, magazines and on recordings in collaboration with musicians.
Her novella this is not about sadness was published in 2010 by Unrast Verlag, Germany, her play Switch off the Light (working title) is due for publication in 2013 by edition assemblage’s book series Witnessed.
What inspired this work
When I moved to London I encountered this immersion in the different cultures and accents, in particular the many different black communities. I felt because we live so close together and culture spills over into one’s own almost organically, that things were possible that often we say aren’t. And like any big city there are lonelinesses behind the walls and facades, things we don’t speak about because they find no space or no one that would listen. They seem unspeakable. But despite the anonymous life of a metropolis there is a graceful tenderness that permeates through the smallest cracks, and sharing consoles, even those seem-able unspeakable things, sometimes without words.
The realization of the work
It began as my master dissertation (for MA in Writing) and was expanded afterwards.
– Background Editorial: under what conditions or situations have you written
A lot of editing took part at my then admin job!
Anecdotes and scenes surrounding this work
Three days before I handed in my MA dissertation I was wondering ‘and what next? how is it going to go forward?’ I opened my email to a message from my now editor Sharon Otoo (who is also the author of ‘the things I’m thinking while smiling politely’). She was part of a new series and said they would like to publish my work, did I have anything suitable (book length wise). It was a timely surprise!
A short summary of this work.
In this is not about sadness, an unlikely friendship between two complex and traumatised London-based women, one an older Jamaican, the other a young South African, is explored through each character’s use of specific language to relate to space, memory and silence. The lyrical dual-narration allows vernacular language to shape the structure and flow, echoing call-and-response modes familiar to international storytelling traditions.
The novel follows pensioner Mrs. Thompson’s and young activist Tebo’s developing friendship and the problems that arise due to their different views on political issues. Their conflictive personalities make for an unusual pair and both carry unspoken trauma. When Tebo cries one day to offer empathy for Mrs. Thompson’s pain, the silence is broken. Their bond is sealed through the acknowledgment of the other’s pain, the personal histories arrive in a space where understanding difference creates possibility for healing and alliance.