With her Words, Poetra Asantewa Rages and Dreams

Photo: Odartey Aryee

The Ghanaian poet is releasing her anthology, Woman, Eat Me Whole, this month.

In 2020, after two years of repeated rejections, documented via an Excel sheet, Ama Asantewa Diaka, aka Poetra Asantewa, scored a deal with one of the big five English-language publishing companies. Under Ecco books, an imprint of HarperCollins, her debut collection of poems exploring womanhood, the body, mental illness, and what it means to move between cultures will be published. Titled Woman, Eat Me Whole, the book also touches on themes like perceptions of beauty, the betrayals of the body, and what it means to give consent.

Feeling both anxious and excited to have the collection finally be released, after selling it two years ago, the young poet has been eager to share her work with others on a wider scale. “I feel like my work has existed on different platforms or in different shapes and forms, and I get to have a full body of work that exists in print,” Asantewa told OkayAfrica.

The 2016 OneBeat fellow has earned critical acclaim for her incisive socio-political commentary through the medium of spoken word and music as heard on projects like 2015’s Motherfuckitude: The Naked Ones and 2019’s The Anatomy of a Paradox. She is also the founder of Black Girls Glow, a feminist nonprofit organization fostering collaborations among women artists and examining ways that art can build community, and Tampered Press, a Ghanaian literary and arts journal. For her “exceptional [work] and taking [the] initiative to create the world [she wants] to see,” Asantewa was selected as one of the personalities spotlighted in French cognac distiller Hennessey’s 2021 All I Need campaign.

Asantewa talks to OkayAfrica ahead of the release of Woman, Eat Me Whole on April 5.

It took two years for you to sell the book. What kept you going in the face of rejections? Did you consider self-publishing?

I decided very early on that I wasn’t self-publishing the book. It was both an individual experiment and, for lack of a better word, a communal experiment to publish within the publishing industry. I wanted to learn the process of being published by a publisher so that I can, hopefully in the future emulate in Ghana because I think one of the things we are lacking here is a publishing industry. Most of the publishers here don’t publish fiction, non-fiction and poetry. It’s mostly textbooks, Christian books or self-help books and so I wanted to learn in such a way that I will be able to know how to work within the local community and then the international platforms. I think that’s what kept me going, just that decision that by hook or crook, I had to get published. I have to find my way into publishing.

I did get a lot of rejections. And I kept an excel sheet of all the pitches I had sent, all the places I had sent to, all the agents I had queried, all the people who replied back, I kept an excel sheet of every information. I kept going. I just refused to give up. To be fair, at some point in time, I wondered if I should push my fiction manuscript before I pushed my poetry because fiction sells better than poetry does. It was very important to me that I published my poetry first because I know that poetry is the first platform that really gave me the freedom to be. And I wanted that platform to be the one to begin my published works.

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