Damilare Kuku on his bestselling novel ‘Almost all the men in Lagos are mad’

Damilare Kuku is new to the Nigerian literary scene. But his collection of short stories, Almost all the men in Lagos are crazy, came with a buzz. Released in October 2021, the book is a collection of twelve salient stories from young Nigerians in Lagos. Capturing the complexion of the city, it tackles themes such as love, sex, deception, infidelity, companionship and heartbreak.

The characters in Almost all the men in Lagos are crazy are women. However, these are not just any women. These are people with whom Kuku shares certain ties.

Some of these women are friends, close acquaintances and relatives. “One of the goals of my work as a creative artist is to bring human beings together, especially women,” Kuku told OkayAfrica. “Because women need to know that whatever they are going through, they are not alone. There are other people going through the same thing.”

Kuku, who loved to read books as a child, grew up between Lagos and Ile-Ife. Before her first novel became a success, Damilare played roles in films. She made appearances in the television series Africa Magic Uninterrupted and Nollywood blockbusters like The set up (2019), chief dad (2018), and love is war (2019). As her writing career garnered attention and success, she landed her biggest role in Nollywood to date – in the drama directed by Biodun Stephen wild flower, released in May.

OkayAfrica caught up with Kuku on Zoom to talk about this anthology work, his inspiration and his biggest role in Nollywood to date.

How did you come up with the title?

The title of the novel came to me after a prayer session. I am a shameless child of God, which means I rely heavily on God. I was actually between projects and remembered that I was in my one bedroom flat in Yaba, Lagos – a very cute little place. I loved it, and I was so proud of the space.

Whenever I am not working, I pray. Somehow, somewhere I was praying, inspiration came and it was like, “what if you wrote a novel called Almost all the men in Lagos are mad?” It wasn’t even the inspiration for the stories; that was just the title. So immediately, I sent the title to the assistant of a very famous Nollywood actor. I never got an answer, which put me off a bit, but I thought maybe it wasn’t the right time, so I gave up. It was in 2019. A year later, I submitted a book to my publisher. It was the publisher who later published Almost all the men in Lagos are crazy, and they were like we saw potential, and we would love for you to come for a meeting. So I went to a meeting and they wanted to sign me on the spot.

Your book deals with themes like deception, camaraderie, infidelity, social class, friendship, and heartbreak. Was there any of these themes that you wanted readers to pay more attention to?

All the stories in the novel are as personal as possible. I don’t have a story in the book, but each story was carefully written, which is interesting because I had all of this stuff written down, hoping anyone reading the book would get the message. When the message was clear, it was quite comforting. Each particular story had a clear intention. The same with any of my work has always been clear. I am always delighted when people see the clarity of my message. Each story is a love letter to a woman I know.

In the story “Beard Gang” of Almost all the men in Lagos are mad, you explored how gay men use marriage to heterosexual women to cover up and hide their sexual orientation. Do you think Almost every man in Lagos helped in any way to determine what the problem is?

First, the LGBTQ+ community is very valuable, and I’m careful with what I say. I believe that my work reflects what is happening in society. Take what you want. I tell most people that I’m not here to educate you, and I’m more of a timekeeper. That’s who I am as a writer. I say that is what is happening. As Damilare, I believe people should be who they want to be. People should learn to accept people for who they are. It’s my freak; this is my theory on life. When a person shows you who they are, accept it, but on the other hand, I’m not doing that in this book. I’m just saying that’s where our society is. Read it and then take what you want from it.

Because it would be foolhardy of me to say it’s wrong or right. I’m not here to teach anyone, I’m just here to reflect society and tell how it is. Many journalists have asked me what my view of queer people is. I don’t have an opinion, and that’s not because I’m trying to play it safe, but that’s what society is.

Damilare Kuku green shirt

“I’m very intentional in my work, and I feel like as a woman, I can only share stories about what it’s like to be a woman,” Damilare Kuku said.

Photo credit: Damilare Kuku

Let’s talk about sex. Why was this so central to the stories told in your novel?

For me, it was the characters telling their stories, and I remember older people who had read the book calling me up and saying, ‘Is that what’s happening now? ” and I said yes. I told them it was different from their time when women were very conservative about their sex life and sexuality. Nowadays, if a woman consents to have sex, she does it of her own free will. So is this necessarily a good or a bad thing? Again, that’s not my place because if I’m passing judgment as a writer, I’m not doing my job telling the story. It’s up to the readers to do with it what they want. I remember I did an interview a while ago and the interviewer and the reviewer called me NALMILAM not too far from pornography, and I laughed. Likewise, the book is dedicated to my mother Oluremi Abake. She has started reading the book, but she also says talking about sex is a bit too much for her. But I feel like this is a normal phenomenon; young people living in lagos are having sex so why sugar coat?

Was there a story in Almost all the men in Lagos are crazy was it tedious or mentally exhausting to write?

The only thing that was quite tedious was the emotions. So when my friends – the inspirations behind the stories – went through what they went through, I narrated as a listener. To write about their experiences, you have to become them. So I found myself being them. Sometimes I even cried. In the story “Ode-plus complex”, the main character (Jide) was the experience of a family member. I became the character to understand what they went through, which helped me as an actor. It was very therapeutic.

Let’s talk about your last role in The wild flower. Share with me what it was like to play the role

Like I said, I’m very intentional in my work, and I feel like as a woman, I can only share stories about what it’s like to be a woman, whether it’s through what friends have been through or what I know someone else has been through. I can say what other women are going through because I’m one myself, so when I got the part in wild flower, after several auditions, I was very excited. I wanted to tell the story of women and what they go through, abuse at work and a lot of girls go through that. They are marginalized. Women go through a lot of things, and most of the time some people who do these things to us don’t think they abused the woman.

In wild flower, my character was abused by his boss, and there was a scene after the abuse where he said to her, “if only you had been a little more cooperative…” and i think most men think alike that. They think, “I didn’t rape you, we had sex. But no, it’s rape. I told you no.” You didn’t listen and went ahead to do what you wanted. When someone says “no”, no should mean no. I have often heard opinions ridiculous like “when an African woman says no, she means maybe”.

We are here in a society where men do not respect borders. They don’t respect personal space and think it’s okay to touch a girl for wearing a short skirt. I read a review on The wild flower from a popular site, and the reviewer said, “Definitely not recommended, because we talked about abuse,” and I wish I could talk to the person and say, “It’s not because we’ve talked about abuse many times so don’t explore it.”

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