Dr. Oladele Olusanya, a medical doctor based in Texas, USA, is the author of Gods and Heroes and other books of the “Itan legends of the golden age” series, groundbreaking historical fiction rooted in the evolution of the Yoruba nation across many generations. Also an artist, multitalented Olusanya has continued to flourish in the three vocations. Daily Sun chatted with him online to shed more light on his unique literary feat, which has taken the literary world by storm.
When did you first realise you were going to be a writer?
I was lucky that I learned to read and write, both in English and Yoruba, before I even went to primary school. So, I have always read a lot, and I wrote good essays from an early age. I daresay I was at the top of my class in school in English Language and English Literature. But I was also very good in Science and had already made up my mind by the time I was nine years old that I would be a doctor. After I became a physician and a university lecturer, I wrote many scientific articles – we call them papers – in medical journals. The answer, therefore, is that I always knew I was a writer, though I did not see myself then as a professional writer. I knew, however, that, one day, I was going to put my knowledge and experience down on paper and have it published.
How long did it take you to write the three books in the “Itan” trilogy?
I wrote the more than one thousand pages of the “Itan – legends of the golden age” trilogy – which, by the way, is the 1,000-year story of the Yoruba people told with a mix of myth, history and fiction – in 12 months. But the revision, editing and publication process took another year. I started to write the first chapter of the series late in 2016. And by July 2018, the first book, Gods and Heroes, had been published.
What triggered the idea to write these books?
What really triggered the idea was that, in 2015, I was part of a group in Dallas, Texas that started a socio-cultural organisation with the purpose of promoting the language and culture of the Yoruba people. I wanted to write a small pamphlet about the old myths and legends of Yorubaland – stories of Oduduwa and Moremi, that sort of thing. And, gradually, as I read widely and did my research, I asked myself, “Why not write the whole history from the very beginning to our own times. And to make it interesting, why not make it an epic –a historical novel that will stretch across many generations and present known historical facts with made-up characters from my own imagination. And lastly, why not weave the narrative, so to speak, into the fabric of my own family history based on stories I heard from my grandmother when I was growing up?” Finally, I resolved to make this book a unique artistic and cultural “ouvre,” that would be a gem for all Yorubas, indeed, all Africans all over the world. I would illustrate the chapters with original Yoruba art and pepper the pages here and there with poems and quotes in Yoruba, translated into English.
What is your writing routine like and what is your work schedule when you are writing?
As you know, I am a physician with a very busy practice. I am also involved in art and many other charitable social and cultural organisations. Therefore, I do not have the luxury of having the whole day waiting for me to write. Since I type very fast, I write in between seeing my patients, before I go to bed at night, and on weekends. Sometimes, the scenes and dialogues come to me when I am in bed. I memorise them, and once I get up in the morning, I run to my computer and put them down.
A historical fiction is a well–researched work. How do you marry history and fiction without making it turgid?
When I was growing up, one of my favourite books was Ivanhoe written by Sir Walter Scott. Later, I read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, which can be called the grand-daddy of all historical novels. Also, while in the university, I fell in love with the historical novels of James Michener and the novels of Wilbur Smith. So I knew that, if I was going to write my own books, I was certainly going to combine fact with fiction like those great authors. The goal would be to educate and entertain my readers at the same time.
What is the most surprising thing you have learnt in creating this trilogy?
It may surprise you, but what really astonished me was to discover that my imagination was so vivid. I was surprised, and pleased, that I could invent a character from thin air and make that person, live, breathe, talk and act in a way that was totally believable.
What does your family think of your writing?
My family consists of my wife, my siblings and my children – and they all love my writing. Of course, I give them snippets and chapters to read as I am writing them.
Your primary audience for the “Itan” series are the Yoruba people. What have been their reactions to the books?
At first, I was scared that maybe the traditionalists back home in Nigeria would find something that was not Yoruba enough about the book. But I must tell you, the response across the board has been very accepting, one may even say, fantastic. When the Alaafin of Oyo was given a copy of my first book, Gods and Heroes, he told me that he was so engrossed, he did not go to bed till 3 am in the morning reading it. He was very happy at the way I highlighted the majesty and heroism of the old Oyo Empire. Much the same thing happened with the Ooni of Ife and the Olubadan of Ibadan, the stories of whose ancestors were featured prominently in the books.
You are a medical doctor, artist and writer. Where is the meeting point?
The meeting point is the gift God has given me, to be someone who grew up to have an interest and knowledge about almost everything under the sun, from music, fine art and sports to literature and science. Like the philosopher Descartes, I had resolved very early in life – and now I am almost seventy –to make all knowledge my province. And, of course, I know I am lucky that nature and providence gave me the talents and skills to thrive, even shine in all these different areas.
Why is a historical book like yours important to the African?
My answer can be paraphrased from one of the dialogue quotes from my book, Gods and Heroes, “We cannot know who we are as Africans, nor can we plan where we are going, if we do not know our past.”
How do those at home access your books?
Buyers can get my books from Amazon and other online booksellers. Gods and Heroes has a Nigerian edition, published by Maven Books, and is available in bookshops in Lagos, Ibadan and other major cities.