Making the Leap: Abidemi Sanusi reflects on what it means to be a ‘Christian’ writer

Abidemi Sanusi

Abidemi Sanusi

IT’S A GREAT PLEASURE AND A PRIVILEGE TODAY to welcome Abidemi Sanusi for this weekend’s guest post and latest contribution to the growing Meet the Author series. Abidemi is a writer and former human rights worker who first came to prominence in the Christian book trade with her book ‘Kemi’s Journal of Life, Love & Everything’ (Scripture Union, 2005). Her last book, ‘Eyo’, was shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and she is now working on her next book. You can catch up with her on facebook or twitter:

Abidemi writes:

THE VERY FIRST CHRISTIAN NOVEL given to me was by a non-Christian. I have no idea how she got hold of the book, but I have her to thank for opening up my eyes to this genre of publishing that I wasn’t even aware existed. All I knew was that I wanted to write fiction that was inspired by biblical themes. The book she gave me reassured me that it could be done.

Kemi's Journal

Kemi's Journal

My first book, Kemi’s Journal of Life, Love & Everything, was published by Scripture Union and nicknamed the ‘Christian Bridget Jones’ by the Independent on Sunday newspaper. Two more books and more than a few contributions to devotional publications later, I was firmly put in that creative box known as a ‘Christian writer’.

At first, the label did not bother me, after all, I was a Christian, and I did write for the Christian market. But then, after a while, it began to grate — round about the time I started thinking about doing something new, something that wouldn’t necessarily fit the guiding principles of Christian publishing. Yes, dear readers, I wanted to leap — straight into the arms of an adoring secular reading audience. I also started thinking about my label as a ‘Christian writer’ and found that I didn’t like it – at all.

Christian writer, or a Christian who writes? Who cares anyway?

For one thing, creatively, I found it too restrictive. Yes, I was a Christian, and yes, I was a writer, and yes, there was a time when I did write specifically for the Christian market, but now, with the kind of books I wanted to write, ones, I might add again, that did not fit the mould of Christian publishing, how representative was the label in terms of where I was creatively and professionally, as a writer? My answer to that was ‘Not all representative’.

I came to the conclusion that I was a Christian who wrote. We don’t call someone a ‘Christian plumber’ or a ‘Christian stockbroker’, but it seems that when it comes to writing, the same rules do not apply. I understand that it works for marketing purposes, but at that time, I found it too restricting.

Eyo

Eyo

I started working on my literary ‘masterpiece’, and when I finished, my agent duly sent it round all the publishing houses (Christian and secular, I might add) – and they all came back with a resounding ‘No.’ Finally, it ended up with an African publisher keen to start a new line of fiction by up-and-coming African writers. Unbeknownst to me, they also entered the book for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.

And so it was that I found myself competing with an Orange Prize winner for a literary prize. I didn’t win (and neither did the Orange Prize winner), but I did get a fascinating insight into the world of general publishing.

So, where does that leave me today? I always thought I had to make the choice between writing for the Christian or the general market, and now, I know I don’t. I like writing for both, and there is no reason why I can’t or shouldn’t do both. I’m a writer, and writers write — and that is all there is to it.

Update, 30/11/2011: If you’re a Christian writer — or a writer who is a Christian — don’t miss the parallel discussion in the ACW facebook group. Clare C M Weiner asks,

‎”Christian Writer” or “Writer who is a Christian” – is there a difference? If so, what is it? And how would you identify yourself? (Eg do all Christian writers publish with Christian publishers, and the others not??? Do the others keep their faith in the background, or even, a secret?)

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