Frances Ogamba is a name that seems to follow me everywhere I go.
Every prize I think of entering, Frances Ogamba is either on the shortlist or on the judging panel, or she has already won it. Back when I used to attend Wednesday evening Literary club meetings, it was as though every meeting day was a Frances Ogamba appreciation day. There’s this particular story of hers—Ghana Boy. People would NOT shut up about Ghana Boy.
Everybody’d read it and I just felt so out of place when she came up in conversation. Like, who is this young woman and why does everyone I know seem to either know her personally or be full on obsessed with her work?
Anyway, that was 2019. Fast forward to 2021, I have dropped my bad belle ways and I completely get it. I’ll admit I love some of her stories too.
Frances Ogamba, if you don’t know yet, is a Nigerian short story writer. She won the 2020 Inaugural Kalahari Short Story Competition. In 2019, her nonfiction piece “The Valley of Memories” won the Koffi Addo Prize for Creative Nonfiction. She is a finalist for the 2019 Writivism Short Story Prize and the 2019 Brittle Paper Awards for short fiction. Her fiction appears or is forthcoming in Chestnut Review, DRAFT, The Dark Magazine, Jalada Africa, New Weather for MEDIA, Munyori Literary Journal, Arts and Africa and Rewrite Reads and she is an alumna of the Purple Hibiscus Creative Writing Workshop.
Of Frances’ stories, I’ve read Ghana Boy, The Unearthing, Call Her No One, The Valley of Memories, Hues of Perfection and The Urn. I would’ve loved to read her 2020 Inaugural Kalahari Short Story Prize Winning Story, My Husband’s Wife, for this post but it is yet to published officially.
The thing about the way Frances tells a story is that she wants you to feel the story. She wants to immerse you in the story. She is very descriptive. Sometimes it works in her favour and other times, in my opinion, it does not. She employs lots of metaphor relating to nature. Like a poet, she loves to play with the natural elements. Earth. Fields. Valleys. Sky. Wind. Water. Cosmos. She sees rivers in roads, trees as guards, pebbles in people. Her writing comes off very tender to me, very feminine. I like that.
Frances Ogamba wants to pull at your heartstrings. Her stories are heart rendering. She doesn’t want to make you laugh. She wants to make you cry. As in, shed actual tears.
Most of her stories are set in Port Harcourt City, Nigeria where she lives, so a lot of the dialogue in her stories is written in Pidgin English. Pidgin, being such a derivative language, has proven a kind of stumbling block for writers (for me, at least). I find it difficult to convey any emotion besides anger and frustration in Pidgin English. Props to her for being better than me in that regard (lol).
Frances writes speculative fiction predominantly. There’s always some spiritual, otherworldly element in the stories she spins.
Ghana Boy, which is now also my personal favorite, is a story about loss and grief. Emeka alias Ghana Boy, a gang member and notorious thief whose managed to escape the hands of justice more than a couple of times, is arrested in the story. Only this time it’s by the infamously ruthless Nigerian police unit—SARS. His younger brother, Oslo, narrates as Ghana Boy and his estranged family come to terms with his arrest and try to bail him out of the hands of SARS.
Reading Ghana Boy was humbling. During the #EndSARS protests, a lot of personal accounts similar to that in Ghana Boy were shared by those who’d unfortunately been victims of the SARS unit, which is still thriving at large might I add. It’s hard to find fault with this story. It was and still is very relevant and accurately presented.
When Ghana Boy’s family is on the way to the police station, Oslo narrates that his mother tells him to change his outfit. He changes his rugged denim jeans because in the narration his mother says, “jeans dey too bold.” It’s a minute portion of the story one might easily dismiss but it does a great job of mirroring reality as well as showing the depth of fear instilled in our characters for the SARS unit.
SARS officers profile youth based on their choice of clothing. The young man with dreads and skinny jeans is an internet fraudster. The young woman in short shorts is a prostitute. That is the only investigating they do. So, when Oslo’s mother tells him “jeans dey too bold”, it reads to me as a warning, for what could be done to him, as his brother has been arrested already, and it reads as a plea, for she has lost one son already. It’s a very relevant, real part of the story one can extrapolate and write a whole essay on.
Hues of Perfection is another good one from Ogamba. The story starts with a mother and daughter walking down a road on their way home from the market where they sell goods. It is narrated by the daughter, Ezinne, who notices a pink tincture on her mother’s arm. She, at first, dismisses it. But that comes at a consequence. Before long, the pink tincture begins to eat into the lives of both mother and daughter.
I love the prose of this story so much. It’s the way Ogamba introduces us to a scene. Here’s an excerpt from the beginning.
“The road was a sinuous runnel of tarmac coursing through the lands of shrubs; of forest burr and wild bauhinia and icheku. It etched and sluiced through fields filled with the pride of Barbados and odaa opue, through my mother and me as we walked home from the Oye town market. It was fall, and the parched winds met the sun halfway, and together they bore down in tempered melancholy.”.