Ukamaka Olisakwe is a screenwriter. The former banker turned writer is currently enjoying rave reviews for her debut screenplay for The Calabash.
How long have you been writing professionally?
I started in 2011 with ‘Girl to Woman’ which was my first short to get published by Sentinel Nigeria magazine.
What do you love most and least about the profession?
I love writing because it is the only time I fully come alive, that’s why I can stay up for 12 hours bleeding my heart, punching keyboards, a feat I would never ordinarily achieve on any other craft. Most times, I live through a day without much memory of what really happened, who I met, the conversations I had with people; everything gets blurred. But when I write, I come alive. Everything falls into place. Writing has become my alternative universe, that’s why I can’t really point out anything I least like about it.
Did writing come naturally to you or did you have to nurture it?
It had always been here but remained ignored because I didn’t meet people who encouraged me to delve into it until 2010. I think I would have written my first novel when I was probably sixteen, but life happened and I took another path. I found my way back, and now, it is as though I have been writing all my life, when really, it is just four years.
Who are your role models?
I am drawn to works by women; those I find a bit of myself in. Buchi Emecheta whose Joys of Motherhood remains my all-time favourite book; Maya Angelou whose autobiographies smacked me right in the centre of her world because it was like I lived during her time and felt what she felt. Then there is Flora Nwapa, Toni Morrison and Bessie Head. For the contemporary writers, I am greatly inspired by the works of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Lola Shoneyin and Chika Unigwe. In the movie industry, there is just one woman whose works and dedication and zealousness greatly inspires me: Shonda Rhimes, the producer of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy and most recently, How To Get Away With Murder. These
women, through their various works, inspire me every day. They make me want to become better, and if I trust myself enough, I would become.
How much are you inspired by your personal experiences?
There is a bit of me in every piece of work I put out, because for me to be able to deliver a story or a script, I have to see that story through my own eyes. In essence, what I mean is, there is always a bit of me in those stories; it is what makes the stories come alive for me. My personal experiences are always my staring point. And then the story grows from there. It goes from the familiar terrain to the unfamiliar.
Tell us about your latest work, The Calabash.
I worked in the banking industry for almost seven years and in those years, I had a lot of sad and happy experiences. I also had friends whose lives were deeply affected by that industry. And so when I met Obi Emelonye and he wanted me to write him a screenplay, I thought it was a good opportunity to write about the banking industry. Before then, I have been meaning to write a book on it but making a TV series seemed the better option. And that’s how The Calabash was born. It is a 104-episode TV series centred on the lives of people working in a fictitious bank.
Interview: Ebunoluwa Mordi
Photo: Courtesy of Ukamaka Olisakwe