Take a writing class and I guarantee that at some point your instructor will emphasize the importance of the opening sentence of your novel or story. It should invite, entice, intrigue, tease, provoke, compel, grab the reader’s attention with the promise of an unforgettable journey. Often noted as a classic example is the opening sentence of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen - “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Written in 1813, it still resounds across the globe with wit and charm.
Few writers achieve the lofty goal of an arresting and memorable opening sentence. Peace Adzo Medie nails it. “Elikem married me in absentia; he did not come to our wedding.” In twelve words, I was hooked. I read His Only Wife in one day. It was everything that the opening sentence promised it would be, and more.
Having been absolutely delighted by her debut novel, I recently caught up with Peace and asked her to share with Mosi oa Tunya Literary Review a bit about herself and her writing journey:
TM: Tendai Machingaidze PAM: Peace Adzo Medie
TM: Tell us about yourself - where you are from, where you live, where you studied, where you work?
PAM: I’m Ghanaian and was born in Liberia. I’m currently a Senior Lecturer in Gender and International Politics at the University of Bristol. I have a BA in Geography from the University of Ghana, an MA in International Studies from Ohio University, and a PhD in Public and International Affairs from the University of Pittsburgh.
TM: How would you describe your writing journey and the inspiration that led to your debut novel His Only Wife. How has your work in Gender and International Politics influenced your storytelling?
PAM: I began writing when I was about ten years old and wrote for myself. I wrote because I ran out of books to read and so I wrote stories and novellas that I wanted to read. I wrote a few book length works of fiction as a teenager but didn’t write as much when I was in university, because of my heavy workload. I started working again when I was completing my PhD. This is when I began working on the manuscript that became His Only Wife.
TM: His Only Wife has had much success internationally since its publication in September 2020, including being named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, a Time Magazine Must-Read Book of 2020, and a Reese’s Book Club October Pick. What has it been like working with Reese Witherspoon and her book club to popularize His Only Wife?
PAM: It's been a pleasure working with Reese’s Book Club. It’s a great team of people that does an excellent job of promoting books and building a community of book lovers. I’ve very much enjoyed being a part of this community.
TM: What challenges have you faced as an author from Liberia and Ghana telling a story that is set in Africa for a global audience? What advice would you give to aspiring African writers who wish to publish short stories and novels in Africa and abroad?
PAM: I just wrote what I wanted and believed that the book would eventually be published and that when published, the story would find its audience. Several publishers passed on the manuscript but my publishers, Algonquin Books, liked and wanted the story. I think writers should write the story that they want to tell, the one that is close to their heart, that moves them. While that story will likely not appeal to everyone, it will find its audience.
TM: What is your favorite book? Which authors have influenced your writing?
PAM: My favorite book is One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was the first book that got me thinking about writing as a craft, as opposed to only something that I did for myself because I wanted more books to read. I enjoy works by so many writers, including Tsitsi Dangaremgba, Isabel Allende, and Zadie Smith.