Our assistant editor, Uchenna Emelife, posed five questions to all the authors shortlisted for the 2023 edition of the Isele Prizes. The questions stretch from their writing processes, to the themes they are most drawn to, their inspirations, and more.

See Ishola Abdulwasiu Ayodele ’s responses below. Also, read his short story, “The Tenderness of Iron”.

Uchenna Emelife: Could you talk about your shortlisted story, its writing process, and what informed it?

Ishola Abdulwasiu Ayodele: Due to the anti-lgbtq laws in Nigeria, queer expression has often been muted. Attraction is communicated with peculiar cues, especially for closeted queer people. And sometimes, a queer body responds to helpless attraction with denial or rather with non-acknowledgement. This is the idea behind “The Tenderness of Iron”.

The title of the story was inspired by the lifestyle of the two main characters. Being people typically stereotyped as tough and rugged, tenderness, especially queer tenderness, is not identified with them. They are irons, hard hard men. This story tries to reveal the soft hidden parts of these irons.

UE: How do you tell a work is ready to meet the world? 

IAA: I guess a work is ready to meet the world when the writer feels the writing has illuminated the idea they wanted to express adequately, and when it seems properly edited. However, the state of readiness of a work is sometimes transient. Like after you let a work go into the world, you could realize a line you could rewrite better or a paragraph that was too expository or the idea of an alternate ending that could work better.

So in a sense, particularly a perfectionist perspective, a work is never truly ready to meet the world. A work is only ready to meet the world for a period of time unmarked by anxiety or overthinking.

UE: What does writing mean to you? 

IAA: Writing is a means of expression to me. Through writing, I am able to explore and express my ideas, and make them accessible for others to experience. By extension, writing is also a tool of social change for me. Because my (story) ideas often interrogate social norms.

UE: If you could only write about one thing, what would you write and why?

IAA: If I could write about one thing, I would write about love: the lack of it, the loss of it, the desire for it, the corruption of it, the transcendentalism of it.

UE: Whose works speak to you? Why? And how do they do that? 

IAA: Many writers’ works have spoken to me at different phases of my writing journey. And each of them had influenced me even in ways that I’m yet to realize. For example, I only recently found the connection between “The Tenderness of Iron” and Benjamin Alire Seanz’s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe; how they share the theme of quiet love sprouting from friendship.

Paulo Coelho’s works spoke to me during my psycho-spiritual exploration phase. His works ingrain the supernatural in the natural world. Coelho’s work made me believe in miracles and magic. So much that during a faith crisis, I reread Aleph just to feel that there’s more to our seemingly ordinary existence.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s work has also spoken to me, particularly on feminism. Her work was my introduction to the ways patriarchy subjugates women, and through interacting with her work, I have learned how to be feminist.

I must mention Becky Chambers, whose Monk and Robot series was a delight to experience. Her optimistic vision of the future of humanity and her examination of what consciousness means were a breath of fresh air.

Lastly, Ola W Halim, Eloghosa Osunde, and Akwaeke Emezi’s stories of queerness and love have touched and inspired me.

About the Authors:

Uchenna Emelife: Uchenna Emelife is a literary curator, an arts administrator, a bookseller, and a human rights advocate. He is the co-founder and creative director of Book O’clock — a literary platform in Sokoto that hosts a literary blog, book clubs, and a bookstore. In 2021, he co-curated the first Book and Arts Festival in Sokoto and was nominated as Mediapreneur of the Year in the Founder of the Year Awards. Uchenna Emelife is as well an advocate for Child Rights, Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights, and anti-Sexual and Gender-based Violence. As a fellow of the African Youth Adolescent Network (AfriYAN), he has been contracted for various virtual campaigns to support the cause by Education as a Vaccine and United Nations Population Fund (UNPA).

Ishola Abdulwasiu Ayodele is a graduate of Agriculture from University of Ilorin. An alumnus of ANA/Yusuf Ali Creative Writing Workshop, Tell Fiction Masterclass and Transcendence Poetry Workshop, he won the 2022 Ibua Journal Bold Poetry Prize and his winning poem is forthcoming in Year’s Best African Speculative Fiction 2021-2022 anthology. His work has been published on African Writer, Omenana Speculative Fiction Magazine, Outcast Magazine, Iskanchi, Brittle Paper and elsewhere.

A seasoned educator, he was a residence director at Artmosterrific, and has been a creative writing mentor for Boot Camp X Leadership Academy and SprinNG Writing Fellowship.

With interest in community development, he is the founder of Firefly Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to inspiring excellence in Nigerian youths.

He curates his artworks and selected pieces on his blog Imoleitan (Imoleitan.substack.com). He enjoys art, astronomy and mysticism and tweets @Isholaabdulwasi