Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah is a Ghanaian who wrote ‘The Sex Lives of African Women’, a collection of true stories reviewing the sexuality of African women.
The book was a ‘Best Book of the Year' by The Economist in 2021. Notable black authors NoViolet Bulawayo, Lola Shoneyin, and Man Booker Prize winner Bernadine Evaristo praised it for affirming women, challenging stereotypes, and breaking the silence on a taboo subject.
During her visit to Kenya for the inaugural MOTO Books and Arts Festival in April 2022, Nana said she was touched by feedback from readers, both male and female.
“I had people saying the book has changed their lives and lots of queer people said they have never felt so seen in their lives,” she told BDLife.
It all started on a beach holiday with a group of female friends for her 30th birthday. “Time and again the conversation would turn to sex, with people being very open and earnest, speaking about their desires, fantasies, and things they had done,” Nana told BDLife.
The communications strategist by profession decided to start blogging about intimate matters and together with a friend, Malaka Grant, created Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women in 2009. In it, they explore the diversity of sexual experiences among African women.
Child with a book
The book idea happened in 2012 after Nana attended a writers’ residency hosted by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie.
At the time she was uncertain about her skills as an author, having only penned blog posts. Nevertheless, she has loved books since childhood.
“I was that child that would sit in the corner reading a book. My mum would say, ‘come and help me’ and I would say, ‘no, I’m reading’,” said Nana.
She particularly enjoys memoirs and non-fiction and is currently reading, ‘A Working-Class Family Ages Badly’ by Juno Roche.
In boarding school, Nana enjoyed acting and writing plays but never thought of writing as a profession. She wanted to work in the corporate world as “a fancy publicist, dressed in sharp skirt suits and drinking wine,” she said with a chuckle.
The teachers at the 2012 residency were very supportive of her blog, calling it valuable and important work. Subsequent workshops boosted her confidence and provided the space to write the book, based on interviews conducted in 2015.
The book was five years in the making because Nana had a full-time job and had a baby in 2020. She would wake up at 5 am to write before going to work.
“But it meant that I could take my time and get a breadth of interviews because I wanted as many people from as many categories as possible,” she said.
Through a busy travelling schedule, she connected with women from around the world. Friends and acquaintances introduced her to other people.
“I would just start a conversation and say I am writing this book,” said Nana. “I also did call-outs on social media and some people messaged me directly.”
Nana has documented the personal experiences of 32 women in Africa, the diaspora, and black women in North America, Britain and the Caribbean. The extent of female sexual experiences is eye-opening, and the stories are related with honesty and sensitivity.
The women agreed to tell their stories because, “they felt this was important to talk about, that people needed to hear them and that their stories were never really out there,” said Nana.
“They also knew that I would protect their identities.” After each conversation, she would let each woman decide if she wanted to use her real name, “because I did not want people to hold back from expressing themselves.”
The best part of the writing process was “chatting to someone about sex over a glass of red wine.”
A story that resonated with her is that of the Malawian woman who, after 10 years of marriage and two children, decides with her husband to open up their relationship to other partners.
“I like that people are giving themselves space to change and grow in a relationship,” she said.
Another one is the story of Solange, a Rwandese living in Canada who transitioned from being male to female. Said Nana, “I like how she connects her trans-identity to spirituality and being made like this.”
Elizabeth, a Nigerian Scottish woman who is wheelchair-bound, was a lesson to Nana in ableism. “I’ve never dated anybody with a physical disability but all the stories have something for me.”
The most challenging part of book writing was the stories of sexual abuse in childhood. “Lots of times I was the first person they had ever told,” said Nana.
“You have to hold the person with care and give them a lot of space but at the same time remember that you are not a professional, not a therapist.”
The biggest challenge was finding the right publisher. “I wanted a western publisher to get a global audience,” she said. “It took a couple of years to find an agent but within three weeks he had sold my book.”
Just two months into the launch the publishers had to do another reprint of the trade paperback.