Having grown up in a Yoruba home, I know first hand that the ideas of affection and romance that are seen in run-of-the-mill western sitcoms is more foreign than bug-eyed green men from Mars. For most Nigerian parents, love and affection are hardly ever shown with the traditional actions that come to mind when these words are brought up, but instead are presented in the form of accolades for good grades (because there’s no such thing as great grades in Nigerian homes) and accomplishments; even the dreaded scolding, equip with comparisons to other children and cousins, is to be interpreted as affection.
While our parents and elders believed that their constant berating was affection, we knew that there was more to it. Could it be that only quirky white people with thriving trendy careers in New York City were the only ones who could find love? Or were we exempt because we weren’t the sassy African American women with trust issues that would soon find her Morris Chestnut-Esq lover at a black professional mixer? Was that kind of love for the average Yoruba girl or was it something that had to be purchased in the form of lavish weddings and expensive foreign homes?
I did not grow up in Nigeria, I grew up in Brooklyn, New York in a very Nigerian home where a week did not go by without white rice and stew for lunch, and Christmas was impossible without jollof rice and goat meat. Growing up with a single mom, I quickly learned that for Nigerian women, love had very much to do with who snags who up first. There is very little care for romance as long as a woman could brag that she had a husband or a boyfriend or even some small boy that keeps bothering her to let him court her. I remember being a teenager in church, looking at the old married couples who behaved more like roommates than they did soul mates and thinking, “why bother?” My only ideas of love came from the glimpses of my mom’s romance novels with covers donned with a gorgeously sculpted white man with luscious hair, clutching an unbelievably gorgeous white woman to his chest as his rippling muscles protrude under the title.
Needless to say that my idea, and that of many of my African contemporaries, of romance is a bit warped. We have had very little exposure to any literature that had any characters that even slightly resemble us Instead, they were filled with European romantics committing suicide, incest and a host of other debaucheries in the name of love. And of course, not knowing anything better, we gobbled it up like fried rice at a 50th birthday (there’s nothing like it). So it’s pretty obvious that we, the African youth, are very much in the need of romantic literature that we can actually see ourselves in. Enters, Ankara Press.
The beautifully written pieces by these women that look like me and my mother and my cousins and the countless African youths wondering what romance is, are more than a breath of fresh air. These novels tell stories that vividly bring Nigeria to life, at a time when it may seem like it is imploding and withering away, and show that romance lives, no, thrives in the streets of Nigeria. A spark lit up in me as my mind was filled with amalgamated images of the Nigeria I remember and the Nigeria I see in Nollywood movies. I fell in love with characters in a way that I had never done before because these characters were so close to me. The stories of these novels are making African romance more than something that is hooked up by nosy church aunties who are scared that your time will soon pass. They present an alternative way of thinking that none of us probably thought was possible. However, my new crush Dominic, from Amara Okolo’s Black Sparkle Romance elegantly put it into words when he said “live free… Life is too short to bother about work alone…there are many beautiful things to see and enjoy” (39). Our parents have made work and success the bane of our existence by making their accolades and scoldings the only forms of affection we’ve ever known. But believe it or not, there is more affection in the world than that and it can easily be found in the beautiful novels of Ankara Press.