Making room for queer writers of colour with Efe Imoyin-Omene
Hear from former Lit Insider Efe as we discuss representation in publishing

To mark Pride Month, we chatted with former Lit Insider and author Emoefeoghene (Efe) Imoyin-Omene about his experience of Pride Month and improving inclusion for queer writers of colour.

Efe took part in our 2021 Lit From the Inside programme for 14 – 17 year olds, that gives young people the opportunity to explore their creative skills and get valuable, hands-on experience of working in the arts industry. This project was generously supported by Anguish’s Educational Foundation.

Read on to discover more about Efe’s writing since the programme. He also shares his thoughts on expanding representation in the publishing industry and how we can support more queer writers and artists this Pride Month.

First off, are you doing anything special to celebrate Pride this year?

It’s a pretty relaxed year, I think I’m just going to be intentional with listening to music by LGBTQ+ creators and also reading more books by LGBTQ+ authors. I want to immerse myself in queer theory and understand the community a bit more.

What does Pride mean to you?

I think for me, Pride means resilience. We’re proud of all the strides made for LGBTQ+ rights. I think that Pride is also essential with the rise of anti-trans legislation in the US and the UK. As cis allies, I think that we have to keep reaffirming that trans people exist and have always existed.

We need to make sure that we’re always resisting, always uplifting the most marginalised in our community

There’s this idea that banning children’s access to LGBTQ+ resources and books that it will “protect” children – but what about the LGBTQ+ children with no support around them, who find themselves through reading or coming across these resources? We’re not protecting or helping those children.

Understanding why we have Pride and staying up-to-date on LGBTQ+ issues is a big part of Pride for me. I think that we need to make sure that we’re always resisting, always uplifting the most marginalised in our community.

We also wanted to find out about your writing. What have you been up to since you were part of our Lit From the Inside programme?

I’ve been up to quite a lot since then. I started the programme at the beginning of 2021 and at that point, I had just finished the second draft of my debut novel but I didn’t know where it was going, so it was in a bit of a limbo state. Lit From the Inside allowed me to explore different genres, different artists, different ways of communicating.

From there, with my friends, I started an English blog in my sixth form. This was aimed at helping people who may not understand English Literature as a subject, and we also started a podcast too. I wrote for different publications, like The Chritical Magazine, Left Brain Media and the Aurum Journal. Last summer, I contributed to a zine with National Centre for Writing, the Observe/d zine, with a bunch of other writers.

I’ve been writing lots of poetry at university and submitting to competitions. I’ve also started going to different students open mic nights to enhance my confidence not only as a writer, but as a speaker and orator.

Trying to do a bit of everything, really!

Tell us a bit more about those open mic nights, they sound great!

So, I’ve been reading poetry that I’ve written at different open mics. In March, I actually hosted an open mic night in Lancaster to celebrate my book Ese: The Misadventures of Moving Forward that came out in November of last year.

I wanted to make it an immersive, collaborative experience – which I think literature should be

Essentially, it was me reading sections of my book and also some of my poetry, and then inviting other people to read out their short stories, poetry and essays.

I wanted to make it an immersive, collaborative experience – which I think literature should be. It’s not just me saying ‘oh, I have a book, go read it,’ it’s about making sure I make my way into the local community and try to have my finger on the pulse of the writing scene in Lancaster. Lancaster’s not a town that screams at you; if you want to find the gems, you have to discover them yourself.

It’s been really cool exploring the literary scene and finding community with other writers, as well as making space to platform my book.

What is Ese: The Misadventures of Moving Forward about?

Ese: The Misadventures of Moving Forward is a YA comedy, or what I call a ‘YA romance with socially conscious and comedic twists’. It’s about the eponymous character called Ese, who’s never really had a home and has always been moving from place to place. He manages to find his home in Church Hill, but unfortunately he has to move yet again. That puts his life in a tailspin.

The book is about the trials and tribulations of this experience, as well as him coming into himself as a Nigerian person and as a queer person navigating early friendships and relationships. He’s trying to find where he fits in this world that is increasingly hostile to people with his different identities.

How do these reactions to different parts of Ese’s identity feature in the book?

Navigating how people react to Ese’s identity is definitely a big feature in his story. What I hope people take away from the book is that it’s OK to take on criticisms and feedback, of course, but other people’s perception of you doesn’t have to be your perception of yourself. You don’t have to let other people’s opinions dominate you; you’re the chief narrator of your own story.

We learn through making mistakes

That’s obviously easier said than done, and sometimes people’s negative opinions can really affect how you see yourself. How do you navigate those emotions, while also coming to terms with who you are as a person? Ese’s learning those lessons and through him I’m learning those lessons as well.

Ese is younger than me, but he’s also surpassed me in terms of his learning. He does get into bad patterns of behaviour sometimes, which can be frustrating, but I think that’s also realistic. We learn through making mistakes.

We wanted to ask you about writing as a queer author of colour yourself. How do you think the publishing industry can make space for writers such as yourself?

That’s a big question! I think having more initiatives for queer authors of colour to get writing is really important. Though, making space begins before someone even starts to think about getting published.

When I was younger, the books presented to me didn’t necessarily have characters like me in them. We need to make sure that our libraries, inside and outside of school, have books that centre different experiences and provide positive representation for young people. It’s a possibility model, so that children know that they can be whatever they want to be and not let societal expectations limit them.

We need more books about people existing who just so happen to be queer

I’d also add that as consumers, we can buy books from queer authors of colour to show that there’s a demand for these books. Often, the excuse thrown around across different media, film, TV, art, is that we don’t have enough people buying work from queer people of colour, so it’s not marketable to have them as protagonists. If we show that we want books from queer authors of colour, publishing companies will be more likely to take queer POC writers seriously.

At university, there’s been more variety in the books taught, but lots of books centre around being queer, or being a person of colour, which is important, but there are other stories that deserve to be told, where people exist outside of exploring those identities. No matter who you are, you fall in love, you fall out of love; you form friendships. We need more books about people existing who just so happen to be queer. Queer people in horror, queer people in fantasy, rather than simply in queer theory or in YA – even though I love queer theory and YA books, too.

It’s so important to have a variety of different stories being told that don’t limit people to singular parts of their identity.

I agree. Even though those stories are important too, I think that there can be an oversaturation of stories focusing on aspects of people’s identities, that reduces the experiences of marginalised groups to lessons that can be taught. It doesn’t have to be as overt as saying a character is black, it can be as simple as describing how people go to bed and might do their hair, and put a bonnet on.

I think that literature in general is an exercise in empathy

I think that including people in books can only make people more understanding in real life. I think that literature in general is an exercise in empathy. For however long you read a book, you get to live inside the mind of the characters.

To finish up, do you have any recommendations of books or poetry collections written by LGBTQ+ writers?

There’s a great queer Nigerian writer I would recommend, Okechukwu Nzelu. Here Again Now is my particular favourite of his.

The other book I would recommend is a tragicomedy from Alison Bechdel called Fun Home. It’s an illustrated dark comedy that’s hilarious and irreverent.

Emoefeoghene (Efe) Akpofure Imoyin-Omene is a 19-year-old British Nigerian writer, author and poet whose work fits into a genre he coined ‘YA Romance with socially conscious and comedic twists’. He has published a novel called Ese: The Misadventures of Moving Forward and has written for the National Centre for Writing, Left Brain Media, Aurum Journal, The Chritical Magazine and a plethora of other platforms. While being a bestseller is his goal, creating work that makes people feel less alone is the dream.

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