The Bookshelves of Hedgebrook by Ayobami Adebayo

By Guest Author

Categories: Alum Experiences, Women's Voices,

When I was packing for my Hedgebrook residency, I chose four big novels and two anthologies to see me through the month I was to spend on Whidbey Island. I haven’t left the house without a book since I was teenager and travelling to another country without taking novels with me is still unimaginable.

At the airport in Lagos, a customs officer rummaged through the carefully arranged contents of my suitcase before I could check it in.

“Are you a student?” he asked, throwing my novels and notebooks back into the case.

I could imagine how he might respond if I said that I was a writer. He would probably ask me about the books I’d written, interested in only what had been published. Perhaps like the officer who’d asked me the same question the last time I passed through the airport, he’d snicker after I told him I was still working on my first novel. I spread my lips into a smile I knew he would interpret as assent and wheeled my suitcase over to the check in counter.

I arrived at Hedgebrook the next day after travelling, by land, air, water and then land again for over eighteen hours. Exhausted and jetlagged, I nodded along as Vito showed me around the farmhouse, but paid little attention to the books in the living room. After several hours of subsisting on airline meals, I was more interested in the dinner preparations that were underway in the kitchen.

The farmhouse quickly became central to my Hedgebrook experience. In the kitchen, I shared cherished moments with other residents as we nourished one another’s souls while we feasted on dinner. Often, we lingered at the table long after dessert was gone, engrossed in conversations about writing and life. I explored the shelves in the living room, caressing the book spines, taking in titles and cover designs, luxuriating in the thrill I always feel in the presence of books that are new to me. I neglected the novels I’d brought with me in favour of the ones I found in the farmhouse and as I struggled with my own work during that month, I found comfort on the fact that most of the books I read mentioned Hedgebrook on the acknowledgements page. I drew validation from knowing the authors had written sections of their books in the space I now occupied, if they’d managed to work on something that made it into print while they were at Hedgebrook, maybe I could too.

On my last morning at Hedgebrook, I wandered through the woods, stopping to pick berries and pressing their flesh so they stained my fingers before I slipped them into my mouth. I had a long journey ahead of me. Yet my anxieties about the long flight home faded away as I made my way past the cabins to the farmhouse. I let myself into the house’s warmth, took off my shoes and slid my feet into a pair of knitted slippers, already, I felt a premature pang of nostalgia for this ritual.

I went into the living room and sat there for a while, gazing at the bookshelves. The tomes they carried had dazzled, inspired and encouraged me. At the beginning of my residency, I’d been confused about how to end the novel had been working on for years. Somehow, mostly in that living room, surrounded by the books of women who had been at Hedgebrook before me, I’d written a new ending for the novel. It still needed some work but I was leaving more confident in my ability to make it better. As I walked out of the farmhouse, I didn’t feel like a fraud. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have my name on the cover of a book yet. I was a writer.

Learn more about the Writers in Residence program: www.hedgebrook.org/writers-in-residence/

About the Author:


In August, Ayobami Adebayo’s debut novel, Stay with Me, will be published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf. She holds BA and MA degrees in Literature in English from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. She was a writer in residence at Hedgebrook in 2015. Twitter: @ayobamiadebayo

 

 

 

 


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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

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6 Comments

  • Nicole Evelina
    12:35 PM - 9 March, 2017

    This is beautiful, Ayobami! I was transfixed by the book shelves, too, when I was there. One of my bucket list goals became to have my books on that shelf. A few years later, it happened! Best of luck to you with your debut release. I wish you much love and many sales!

  • Sarah Ladipo Manyika
    1:58 PM - 9 March, 2017

    And soon Hedgebrook will have your book on the shelves too and your words will inspire others!

  • Carol L Richards
    4:56 PM - 9 March, 2017

    I had the absolute privilege of being a Hedgebrook resident with Ayobami. A favorite part of my day was gathering at the dinner table to share an inspiring meal and our stories. I can’t wait to read Ayobami’s novel, which was reviewed today in the Guardian. “She has a thoroughly contemporary style that is all her own. Her clever and funny take on domestic life and Nigerian society is a welcome addition to her country’s burgeoning literary scene. Despite the intense sadness of her subject matter, she has produced a bright, big-hearted demonstration of female spirit, as well as the damage done by the boundlessness of male pride.” Brava! https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/09/stay-with-me-by-ayobami-adebayo-review

  • Sue Kingston
    8:09 PM - 20 March, 2017

    While attending a masters class last June, I also was entranced by all the novels by Hedgebrook writers lining the shelves and discovered new authors whose work I cherish. I look forward to reading yours. Congratulations, Ayobami, on the publication of your novel.

  • Ayobami Adebayo
    3:21 PM - 22 March, 2017

    Thank you Nicole, Sarah and Carol!

  • Abdulqawiyu Muhammad
    5:56 PM - 10 May, 2017

    Nigerian here. Stumbled upon the link to this article on Facebook yesterday. Never heard of the Hedgebrook Residency. Matter of fact, I started writing two years ago and I’m kind of a hermit. My readings of African literature is limited to secondary school syllabus. Recently read Sarah Ladipo’s In Dependence and I’m just freaking out seeing her comment on your blog.

    I wish you the best with your debut. And I hope NYSC does for me what that farmhouse did for you.

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