Toni Kan in Conversation with Edwidge Rene Dro who says: “I write to discover the why-ness of things.”

Edwidge Renee Dro is a writer, literary translator and literary activist from C’ote D’Ivoire. She is a 2021 Writing fellow of the Iowa International Program and founder of 1949, the Abidjan-based library of women’s writings from Africa and the black world. She spoke to Toni Kan on the sidelines of the Ake Festival 2023.

Edwidge Rene Dro: What kind of question are you going to ask me, Oh God…

Toni Kan: (Laughter)  Tell me your name first

ED: My name is Edwige Renee Dro

TK: Where are you from?

ED: From Côte D’ivoire, I live in Abidjan

TK: Do you consider yourself a writer?

ED: Hm Do I consider myself a writer- yes, I consider myself a writer

TK: Why?

ED: In a sense that, well, what else do I know how to do when I don’t grab onto this writing thing. (Laughs)  But I… you know I translate literature.

TK: Ehen…

ED: And…I also think that’s a form of writing 

TK: Ehen

ED: That is actually a form of writing.

TK: I mean right now, the Booker says the translator gets part of the price too if you win

ED: Yes, I know so I need more writers to get into the competition. (Laughs) So yeah, in that sense, yes. But I’ve then been doing more of writing and I’ve been doing a lot more translations of literature recently like I’ve just finished translating Marguerite Abouet’s book, This Ivorian graphic writer

TK: How do you spell Abouet?

ED: Abouet, A-B-O-U-E-T. You know the writer who writes the Aya series

TK: Oh really?

ED: I’ve translated it and some children’s writing from Mauritius. So, I’ve been doing a lot more translation. And also, you may know this, because you are a cultural producer but I set up a library in 2020, 1949. The library of women’s writings from Africa in a black world (Laughs). So that has been…

TK: In Abidjan?

ED: Exactly, in Abidjan

TK: How’s that going?

E: You know, that’s going well, but as I was chatting with Obii earlier on, this takes a lot of time o. You said how is it going to me as a joke thing and before you know it.

TK: I run three companies, so tell me about it.

ED: Exactly, you are like, who sent me? 

TK: Yeah

ED: (Laughs) Who sent me to do this wahala?

TK: So, when did you realise you wanted to be a writer?

ED: Well, a published writer I don’t know, but I started writing when I was eight. We were living in the north of Cote d’ivoire, which is quite under developed if you went today. There was not enough books, I had finished reading the books in our family library so Ichose to write so that I could read.

Edwidge Dro

TK:  (Laughs) You wanted to read yourself

ED: (Laughs )  Yeah, well, at the time. Well there were some other books but the books were not finished. My father, who was a mathematics teacher, told some of his colleagues that, you know, my daughter likes to read and at that time his colleagues were all French people

TK: Ehen..

ED: You know, from France. We did have a lot of mathematics teachers in the country then, and they gave him a lot of these books, all for, you know…

TK: So you had a big library or a bigger library

ED: All of these white children stuff, but I was in the north, 900 kilometres from Abidjan, where children didn’t have bicycles and didnt go on adventures

TK: (Laughing)

ED: So I was like what are these stupid books. So, I tore the books, many of them. Thankfully, I didn’t tear all of the books because my father saw me

TK: Wow

ED: And he gathered, like, the remaining and all of these pages that he had found in our compound (Laughs). So that’s when I started writing when I was eight, then when I was fifteen, I wrote what I called a novel just because it filled much of a three hundred page notebook, yeah. So, that’s when I knew that I wanted to write

TK: To express yourself

ED: Yeah, and then when I was seventeen I was like, yeah, this is nice, nice

TK: So what have you written now? Books? Short stories?

ED: So I’ve written mostly short stories

TK: Ehen

ED: And essays, a couple of essays, but really, I’m trying hard to write..

TK: A novel?

ED: A novel, yeah to have it out. It is written but I’m kind of doing the hard slugging work of editing

TK: What’s it called?

ED: I don’t wanna say because the title is so shit.

(General Laughter)

TK: So do you consider yourself a full time writer?

ED: I’m not a full time writer. I suppose a full time would be like devoting forty hours

TK: Ehen

ED: I do not devote forty hours. For my own writing I only devote two days. Mondays and Tuesdays are my writing days

TK: So you prioritise those two days for writing

ED: Yeah, for my writing, writing that is not going to pay any money now. It’s not the writing that you go like  – ‘do this because you have a contract, do this’.

TK: So let’s forget the essays and the translations, if you want to write a short story for instance

ED: Yeah

TK: What is the trigger for it, is it like smell? Something somebody says, some traumatic experience, what triggers your writing?

ED: No, what triggers my writing are mostly things I’ve been thinking about; things that I’m wondering about; why is this like this, or you know?

TK: The ‘why-ness’ of it.

ED: Exactly, it is the ‘why-ness’, and it is me writing this little to engage in conversation

TK: Hmm

ED: Yeah, so that’s what I do

TK: Alright. So when the idea comes how do you tackle it, so you say you write on Tuesdays and…

ED: Mondays

TK: Mondays. So, when do you write? Mornings, afternoons, nights? What is your process?

ED: No no no, that’s when I get out of my place. I drop my daughter off somewhere, I do not eve exercise on those day because I noticed that exercise , like, you know, is another procrastination.

TK: Your brain, you say to your brain we have to work

ED: (Laughs) Exactly. And all of these gives fresh air to your brain. So I drop off my daughter at school, then I go and sit in a cafe somewhere 

TK: Like J.K Rowling

ED: And I write from like 8:30am until 2:30pm and then I go back. Oh, yeah, those are like my hours.

TK: So, you pick her up and then you go back home? Wow.

ED: Yeah then I go back home. On Tuesday I repeat the same process, because if I go home there is no point, I’ll just be engaged in other things so I don’t

TK: So, let’s say I meet you at the airport, I’m eighteen years old and I say “Ah, Dwidge, I want to write.” Advise me.

ED: Advise you? I mean, like ok – what books have you been reading that you want to write so much? You know? I do get people who want to write who come to me, then I ask what book are you reading? And as I was telling somebody this morning, don’t just tell me you’re reading the The Dark Child by Camara Laye. As much as I love Camara Laye, he’s well dead. What newer writings are you…you know, are you reading? Are you reading for pleasure?

TK: That’s L’Enfant noir, yeah?

ED: L’Enfant noir, exactly.  L’Enfant noir. So, Im like, yeah just read for pleasure, read so much that you’re saturated.

TK: Sorry, what was that other book of his, The Radiance of the King?

ED: Le Regard du roi

TK: Yeah, that’s french

ED: Exactly, The Radiance of the King. That’s how they translated it

TK: Yeah

ED: And I’m like, yeah, read until you’re so full, so that it overflows. I think you write from overflow-ness, you know, where the overflow comes from…

TK: …what you’ve read and…

ED: Yeah, what you’ve read

TK:  …and what you’ve experienced…

ED: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

TK: Thank you

ED: Thank you so much


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