Disrupting the publishing space one story at a time
What inspired you to start Ilé Alo?
Very simply, I was inspired by the stories and content from writers and creatives I came across online. I spent my year off after graduation in 2014, at home in Nigeria. As you can imagine I had far too much free time and began toying with the idea of putting some of the fiction I had written online. I had no idea where to start. So, I began the classic millennial endeavour of ‘stalking’ other writers in my position to see what they were doing with their writing online. I discovered that the internet was literally brimming with brilliant short stories, written by young and very talented writers of African descent.
I was completely captured by some of the stories I read. They took me to places I could never have reached otherwise and opened my mind to the very different life experiences of others. It confirmed for me that what it means to be African, what it means to be of the diaspora, what it means to be black is so beautifully multi-layered and textured. Stories are an incredible way to capture and convey the diversity of African perspectives, experiences and ideas out there.
I remember feeling frustrated that despite this richness and depth to our experiences, mainstream perceptions of what it means to be of “African descent” are still very coloured by historical misconceptions, misrepresentations and stereotypes. It occurred that stories could be used a powerful medium to change those perceptions …and I guess this is where the idea for Ilé Alo was born.
What would you like Ilé Alo to become for black writers?
We’ve set about carefully creating Ilé Alo to be a space where storytellers from across Africa and the diaspora can come and showcase their stories - a beautiful space that we as a people group can feel a sense of pride in and belonging to. The aim isn’t for Ilé Alo to be just another place to share stories, because there are many out there. We want storytellers of African descent to feel completely free to share their stories, within a community created specifically with them in mind. Secondly, it is important that our storytellers, can be confident that their stories will be read by a diverse audience from all over the world - their stories on Ilé Alo, will contribute to a shift in global perspectives.
What do you believe platforms such as Medium have done for writers?
Medium changed the game for writers and the dissemination of information/ideas generally. I think Medium is fantastic. For the first time writers could jump online and publish their writing to a potentially much wider audience than just their social media or blog followers. In many ways it broke-down traditional barriers to publishing and demystified what it means to be a talented writer. Ilé Alo closely follows in this disruption, but this is a space created specifically with storytellers of African descent in mind - and a clear intention to harness the power of these stories to change the narrative.
What barriers do you believe black writers currently face?
I’m perhaps not best placed to give a complete overview of all the barriers that black writers face, but from where I stand, a major problem I can see is that black writers aren’t getting enough airtime. There is certainly no shortage of talented black writers, but it is difficult for writers to get their work in front of the right people. One of our aims at Ilé Alo is to create a bridge between talented writers and established publishers, content curators, brands and organisations of interest, by proactively increasing the visibility of our storytellers.
Are you a writer yourself? If so, what advice would you give to anyone looking to write professionally?
I am a writer! I have explored creative writing since I was a child. My own writing has taken a temporary backseat whilst I’m working on this platform to empower other writers, but I hope to publish some of my stories soon. In terms of advice, I would encourage writers not to give up on their craft. Writing can often be an isolating experience, especially if there’s no feedback from an audience or if the dreaded writer’s block hits. Often, we as writers are very critical of our work and rethink and overthink what we have written. Keep writing – there are chapters in you that the world needs to read.
How do writers join the platform?
We’ve made it super easy - hit www.ilealo.com. Anyone can explore the stories on the platform and learn more about the storytellers. There is already a lot of brilliant content available, from talented storytellers, writing from all over the world. If you want to publish your own writing too, you absolutely can. All you need to do is register and click the “write a story” button. Our aim is to publish as many stories as possible, but we have included a very short approval process for uploads to ensure that Ilé Alo remains a community we can all be proud of.
Do writers need to have previous experience to be published on the platform?
No experience necessary! We truly believe that anyone can write a fantastic story, and everyone should have the opportunity to showcase work they are proud of. At Ilé Alo we have defined ‘story’ in the broadest sense and so we welcome fiction from all genres, thought-pieces, reviews, commentary, poetry and so on. There’s no reason to hesitate any longer, don’t write in isolation – come and share your work on Ilé Alo!
Also – just a small call-out – we are looking to showcase talented black photographers on Ilé Alo’s homepage. The homepage background will change every month and we will place live links in the credits to the social media/contact details of the photographer.
If you would like to showcase your work, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Interviewee: Erin Abraham
Interviewer: Swakara Atwell-Bennett