Bookshelf: You were more popularly known as a playwright and creative director for stage. What influenced your decision to become a writer?
Vanessa Jev: When I think about it, writing has always been a part of me. It’s always been my best subject in school. I never found writing hard. I found an escape through it, I could create new worlds, escape through words and books. Reading in my family was something my mum had us doing from a very early age. I love how a book, a poem, even a good quote can pull you in and create intense emotions in you.
Bookshelf: What was the motivation to write ‘45 Confessions from the Black Girl Next Door’?
Jev: It came from a really low point in my life. I was going through a rough time in schoolboy drama, I felt inadequate, I couldn’t talk to my parents and it was all too much. I was alone with the closest family either four hours away by plane in one direction or six hours by plane in the other. I had all these thoughts in my head and I decided well, if there’s one place I can get it all out without any judgment it’s by writing, and that’s what I did.
Bookshelf: What did it feel like having your first book on Amazon’s bestseller for three weeks at #1 and is still on the bestseller list for African poetry ranking #9?
Jev: It was outstanding! I was more than shocked when I woke up the day after it was published and saw it at the #1 mark for bestsellers. I couldn’t believe it, I refreshed the page every moment I got, the first day. I thought it wasn’t real! It was a great feeling as an author for sure! I still can’t believe it’s in the top 10 for African Poetry on Kindle Canada as I speak.
Bookshelf: How did you come about the title?
Jev: 45 ended up being the amount of confessions that I had to give at the time and the, ‘Black Girl Next Door’ actually came about from the area I was living in at the time. I had neighbours and to them I was simply, the black girl next door – this unknown entity who occupied the apartment next to theirs.
Bookshelf: What were the challenges working on the book?
Jev: The major challenges were finding a balance between how much I wanted to give to the public and how much I wanted to keep private. How much of my personal life, my struggles, my failures and my fears did I want to let people into?
Bookshelf: Which is your favourite poem and why?
Jev: Definitely, ‘The African Woman’ which I wrote to celebrate the “African” woman in general – her grace, her intelligence and her image. It’s something that a lot of people in Western media have been trying to emulate and embody and it’s something that is unique to African women. It is inherently who we are, all these amazing things that together create a phenomenal woman.
Bookshelf: When you started writing, did you face any opposition dissuading you from doing it?
Jev: I have definitely faced opposition! I think when you are doing something new that pushes boundaries a little bit, it will make people uncomfortable. I have always taken it in stride. I’m always looking for feedback and critiques. I’m growing and learning every step of the way. I think facing opposition opens doors for discussions as to why this person opposes what I’m doing and how can I turn them into someone who sees the vision in what I’m doing.
Bookshelf: How do you combine stage production, writing and the other things you do? Do they sometimes conflict?
Jev: To be honest they’ve never conflicted. I think I’m lucky in the sense that I have always been given 100% artistic control of anything I’ve written that has gone on to be produced. It’s my vision my way all the time. The writing always comes first. There’s no stage production without a script. I also think that because writing and stage productions are my passion there’s nothing it can conflict with. I’m always ready to talk about a play, or work on the script or edit my work. Writing has always come first for me.
Bookshelf: What does Justin Trudeau’s announcement about theInternational decade for people of African descent mean for you and your work as an author?
Jev: I personally hope it means more exposure and more spaces to create. I also hope it means more funding so that I can keep on creating and writing. I hope it pushes African theater and literature to the forefront in Canada. We come from such a rich history, from our foods, traditions, to clothing, and our culture. I hope it shows people in the West that Africans are not just the depictions that they show on TV.
Bookshelf: Why was it important for you to write on the theme(s) you chose to write about?
Jev: It was important for me because some of the themes are just not spoken about in our communities. Very few Nigerian’s discuss boyfriends, relationships, mental health or abuse with their children. A lot of the time, especially women, we are led to just deal with it, pray about it or change ourselves because there must be something wrong with us rather than the other way around.
Bookshelf: Why poetry and not prose?
Jev: Using poetry meant I didn’t have to explicitly write everything out. That’s my love of it, something can be written one way and interpreted in so many different ways depending on the person reading it. I didn’t want people to just hear and read my story, I wanted them to be able to relate, read into whatever they needed to, and poetry gave me that freedom.
Bookshelf: What is your most effective mode of communication art wise?
Jev: It’s always been through my words, through writing. Whether it’s a book or a play, it’s the words that have been written that can convey and create a plethora of emotions and atmospheres.
Bookshelf: How have your fans received you as an author and your work?
Jev: The support has been absolutely incredible. People are used to physically seeing my work in action, and this time my work was in their hands in their own spaces. The messages and emails I’ve received have been mind-blowing. It’s more than I could have hoped for and I am forever grateful.
Bookshelf: What next from here?
Jev: More writing, it’s non -stop! I’m currently working on something that I think is going to be pretty big! It’s coming soon!
Bookshelf: What is your writing routine like?
Jev: It’s definitely sporadic and all over the place! I’ve always wanted to be the kind of person who has outlines, plans and has order but it just doesn’t work that way for me. I wish I could sit and write for hours but when I try to it feels very forced. So, I just write when it comes to me, sometimes that can be hours, or minutes and there have definitely been times when I’ve woken up at 2am and just sat and written for hours.
Bookshelf: Does the success of ‘45 Confessions from the Black Girl Next Door’ pressure you to write something else?
Jev: It has! Every time I run into someone who has read it, one of the first questions is when is the next one? So, it’s definitely put a fire under me to write. However, I won’t force it to come, it’ll happen when it’s supposed to.
Bookshelf: Are you planning on doing anything in Nigeria soon?
Jev: I am definitely planning on doing a show in Nigeria! I’m ready to come right now! But, there are so many logistics to making this a reality! I’m definitely working hard to make it come to fruition.