Omolola Ijeoma Ogunyemi is a biomedical informatician and writer. Her book, a novel in stories, Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions, was published in September. Before participating in the Zócalo/ALOUD program “How Does L.A. Inspire First-Time Novelists?,” she sat down in our green room to talk friendship, family, and fair trade.
What was the last book you checked out from the public library?
It was from the Lloyd Taber Library in Marina del Rey. And it was actually a video, The Color Purple. Often you can find The Color Purple on cable, but I wanted to watch it again on my own time.
Your novel Jollof Rice and Other Revolutions is a celebration of friendships. Do you remember your first friend?
The first friend I remember is from second grade. Her name was Molara Salako. I remember we used to walk around arm in arm in grade school. In Nigeria, we start at age 4. So I would have been 6. I just remember that we loved to hang out and walk around the whole school, and go visit the headmistress for treats.
What's your most unpopular literary opinion?
That you have to write every day. That's because the way my career has worked out, that hasn't worked for me. The same time, it took me a long time to finish the book precisely because of that. So while that's ideal, you can still write a book without writing every day.
What's the last book you read that you loved?
Bliss Montage. Oh my God. It just blew my mind. It's just so unexpected. I just loved it. She [Ling Ma] has a great imagination.
How has your brother played a role in your literary life?
He really was the one who pushed me to start publishing my writing by getting me to enter a writing competition in South Africa, the PEN/Studzinski award. Once I was a finalist for that, opportunities started to come my way, people started to reach out, and I knew that my writing could find an audience beyond friends and family. And that was really, really nice.
What's your favorite thing about Los Angeles?
It’s where I met my husband!
What's one of your favorite communities that you’re involved with.
Before the pandemic, I volunteered [for over ten years] at Ten Thousand Villages, which is a fair-trade nonprofit. They sell handmade goods from artisans in developing countries. And they give them a fair price—the price that the artisan asks for—and they give them 50% up front, which means that people are able to send their kids to school or have a better life. I just love that.