Interview: Kesha Fisher

Interview: Kesha Fisher

Why is this book important to you?

No God like the Mother is brutally honest. I wrote the sort of stories I enjoy reading, but I was not going to sugarcoat real-life situations with happy endings. While I feared I might scare readers away, I was willing to take that chance-hoping the humanity behind the circumstances would stand out. I am pleased it did. 

When and how did your journey with this book begin?

Long before I thought of publishing, I wrote about the world’s problems as my way of dealing. After getting not one but two stories accepted into a literary magazine one year, and then winning the Editor’s Choice Award the following year (for the story, “Thief,” included in No Got like the Mother), I decided to compile by short stories in one place. I met the acquisitions director for Inkwater Press at a local event, and one day, I decided to shake off the anxiety, and hit send. The rest is history – or mostly in the remainder of this interview. 

What do you hope people will take away from this book?

Though these stories are pulled from many of my own experiences, and feel uniquely African, the themes should feel familiar to every mother. The book is ultimately a tribute to those who are broken or on the mend. I hope No God like the Mother  will unite mothers across the world in common understanding of their similar experiences, and how our past traumas inform our mothering. 

What motivate or drives you?

I was in high school when my mother was first imprisoned. From then on, I felt like I was without a permanent home, and without a safe space to create or share. I felt immense guilt for even wanting these things. My freshman English teacher, Mrs. Mori, gave me that space, encouraged me to share, and showed me how to cop. She gave me what I want to give girls who are in the same situation – the freedom to create their own space, even as they feel broken, rejected, or unsafe. 

How did publishing your first book change your relationship with your writing?

I never believed anybody would read my stories. Though it was a dream of mine, it seemed only my loved ones believed I was worthy of a published collection. Working with Inkwater Press, I received help in editing and publishing. Now that it is done, and opening new doors for me with other projects, I will never be stifled by fear again.

What was an early experience in which you learned that language had power?

I first discovered the power of language when I lived in Nigeria. Nigeria, like many places, lives through the stories told by elders. As a girl, I heard countless tales of times before mine, and I would close my eyes and see vivid images formed from words. I have been trying to live up to the power of that kind of storytelling ever since.

What is your goal or wish for your book? Why was putting your work into the world important for you?

I spent most of my life feeling wrong for having my thoughts, and absolutely terrified to share them. When speaking up for myself in later years, I felt a responsibility to support others. I want to help dismantle the era of “sit down, shut up, and don’t say anything,” one heart at a time. And I just want No God like the Mother to be a bridge for me to connect with readers who understand that.

What have been some of the most challenging moments?

It’s always challenging to decide whether a piece of work is ready for other eyes. I used to fear making mistakes. Not anymore. Mistakes are a part of life. They are there to help us learn.

Were there times when you considered giving up on this project? If so, what helped get you through?

I’ve been working on my American mother’s story for years. Because of how chaotic life was for all of us, I wanted only to share the good, trivialize the bad, and entomb the ugly. All the while, my mother had been telling everyone that I was working on a book. When I told her I feared the embarrassment, she said, “Don’t hide nothing. That’s life.” With my concerns alleviated, I started building her story from where I left off. It fills me with immense joy and pride that I get to tell it.

What is your writing process like? Are there specific quirks, tricks, rules, or habits you have?

I must carve out time for writing. I was working full time and raising young children while putting together No God like the Mother—that might explain the decade it took to complete. Now, I am fortunate to have more time to focus on writing, so when the house is empty, I utilize the silence. No phone. No TV. No solicitors. Just me, the computer, and the (silent) dog.

What is different and important about your book? What does it add to the conversation?

I have heard on many occasions that there are taboo topics in African stories, particularly African women’s stories—so I decided to tell stories that focus on those topics. I was born to a woman whose pain had been forced into submission for so long that it showed up in me and my children. Though my voice was frail, my words were strong. When my fury was unleashed, I decided this agony could no longer live on inside my silence. It is why I find myself on the mend. It is why I write.

What advice or wisdom would you like to pass on to others?

This feels very personal. It crushes me that criticism has become more restrictive than constructive. I always welcome feedback and discussion with my work—but I will not have another person steering my imagination. No sir, no way, no how. Do not let anyone stifle your creativity, my friends.

Do you have a favorite quote or mantra?

A lesson from my late mother is: Be passionate, but don’t forget to be compassionate.

About Kesha Fisher

Kesha Ajose Fisher, whose essays and stories have been published in several online and print collections, writes from singular experience. Born in Chicago, Fisher was raised in Nigeria, Texas, and California. She now makes her home in Portland, Oregon, where she lives with her four children, her husband, and her poodle/bichon mix, Oscar. She has worked as a counselor with disadvantaged youth, and also as an advocate for African immigrants and refugees. Vividly informed by the struggle, triumph, love, and pain of her own life and the lives of her clients, Fisher’s writing documents the bitter suffering of characters in seemingly inescapable predicaments. 

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