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Coffee and Conversation with Ghanaian author Ruby Yayra Goka

Hila Olyan, our Director of Program Development and Innovation met with Ruby Yayra Goka in Accra, Ghana on February 2020 for coffee. We wanted to share these anecdotes from their get together. 

As I sit down with Ruby, I’m both a little surprised and very intimidated.  I know, from her bio on the back of her winning Burt Award books that she’s not only one of the youngest winning authors, she’s also winning-est.  And, if that’s not enough, when Ruby isn’t writing, she’s an accomplished dentist, heading up the Dental Department at the Volta Regional Hospital, Ho.

It’s not often that you find a dentist-writer combination.  I’m intrigued.  “How long have you been writing?” I ask.  I’m wondering, what came first, the dentist or the writer?

“Officially, 11 years,” she says, “unofficially, all my life.”

I have my answer, Ruby is a writer through and through.  She tells me that she always loved stories but that she never thought they were good enough until she won third prize for The Haunted House. She was in medical school when she wrote the story.  She used to submit her stories anonymously.  These days, Ruby has more confidence but she still admits that to this day she’s nervous to receive feedback from her editor.  Nevertheless, she makes a point to note that editing is important, “it’s not a personal thing,” she says, “it makes the book better.  Looking back, I wish I’d had more of my earlier books edited.”

We continue to sip our coffee and I ask Ruby, a few more questions.

“Do you ever get stuck when you write?”

“All the time.  Sometimes I let the story sit for a bit.”

“What is your inspiration?”

“Everyday things.  Once I can hear the characters speaking I can start writing.  Typically I develop a plot first, but then sometimes I change it.”

“What is your favourite book?”

She tries to get out of the question.  “How can I pick just one?”

I know it’s an unfair question for an author but I push her for an answer anyway.

“Maybe Nancy Drew.” I can’t help but nod in agreement.  Don’t readers everywhere love a good mystery?  Then she adds, “The first African book I read was The Jasmine Candle [by] Christine Botchway.  I absolutely loved it.”  I quickly make a note to pick up a copy.  “Oh and The Gods are not to Blame, Ola Rotimi.  And, The Great Ponds (Elechi Amadi).  And…”

Before I know it I have a reading list that should last me a year.  I’m thrilled.  I’m also happy to hear that Ruby’s love of reading extends beyond the English classics that we’re asked to read in school.  She knows the value of reading African literature.   At CODE, we work to ensure that books written by local authors are available not only for advanced readers in the form of novels and longer books, we start with the earliest of readers.  We support authors and illustrators and publishers to write and publish children’s books by local writers and artists, sometimes in English but also in mother tongue languages like Twi.  Its important for books to reflect the lives of the readers, for children to relate to the characters and to the places in the stories they read.

I realize it’s time to wrap up my questions.  “Any advice to an aspiring writer?”

“Read.”

Our interview is over.  I’ve got everything I came for.  Good coffee, better company, a new reading list and some great advice.  Meduase Ruby, yebeshyia bio (thanks, we’ll meet again).

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