An Interview With Louisa Onomé
Black-Canadian lit can be scarce, however, critically acclaimed author Louisa Onomé is making quite an impact in the literary scene. Her new YA novel The Melancholy of Summer is receiving rave reviews for its nuanced portrayal of grief, trauma, and the emotions that accompany the coming-of-age experience.
Louisa Onomé is a Nigerian-Canadian writer of books for teens and adults. She holds a BA in professional writing and a MA in Counseling Psychology. Her debut young adult novel Like Home was critically acclaimed, receiving several starred reviews, including from Kirkus Reviews and School Library Journal.
When she is not writing, she works as a narrative designer in games. Her hobbies include language study, obsessing a healthy amount over her favorite video games, and perfecting her skincare routine. She currently lives in the Toronto area.
I got the wonderful opportunity to chat with Louisa about her new novel, her upcoming projects, and her experience as an African-Canadian author (and even got some tips along the way). Be sure to check out the interview below!
The interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
SGBC: Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you become an author? What book or writer inspired you to pick up the pen?
Louisa Onomé: I’ve always enjoyed writing, even as a young kid, and I don’t think any one writer inspired me. I think it was a collection of being around books and understanding that the names I saw on covers belonged to people, and that if they could write for a living, then so could I.
I used to write a lot of fan-fiction and did so for years until I decided to try writing my first manuscript. It went as you can imagine it went! But I continued to write a new manuscript, edit, and query for about five years before landing my book deal with my agent.
SGBC: Novels by Black Canadians can be scarce, especially in the Young Adult genre. In your experience as a Black Canadian woman, was it difficult breaking into the literary scene? If so, do you have any advice for aspiring Black Canadian authors?
Louisa Onomé: To be honest, I would be lying if I said it was particularly difficult. I feel very fortunate to have always found a way forward and believed in myself enough that any obstacles I faced didn’t devastate me completely.
I met the right people, and heard the right words, at every stage to keep me going.
My biggest advice is to focus on your why, understand who you are, and don’t be swayed by the pressures of others, even within your own community. You 10000% can do this and the first step truly is believing!
SGBC: The protagonist Summer has a unique set of obstacles to face throughout the novel. However, you and her share similarities; you are both Nigerian-Canadian women from Toronto, with a connection to York. Is Summer in any way inspired by your own coming-of-age experience?
Louisa Onomé: Parts of Summer’s loneliness and isolation are inspired by the parts of me that feel overwhelmingly alone and isolated, but in terms of actual experiences, I wouldn’t say there are a lot of one-to-one matches.
I wrote a lot about how Summer feels like the world is moving on without her, and that’s something I felt acutely after university. I imagine all of us have felt that way at some point in time.
SGBC: The Nigerian representation throughout the novel is strong, which was refreshing as an African-Canadian reader. Could you speak to the importance of representation in literature?
Louisa Onomé: Thank you! Representation in literature is important to me because it just is. I know that’s an anticlimactic answer, but I do think that if we start looking at the diversity that already exists in the world and just accept it fully and wholly, then it becomes less important to justify why we write about it. I exist, my community exists, and that deserves to be documented, simply because.
SGBC: The characters throughout the novel were beautifully written and well-developed. You fully captured the dynamic of a teen friend group grappling with tough choices, awkward family encounters, and the grief that comes with being abandoned. What’s your secret for writing tangible, thought-provoking characters?
Louisa Onomé: I absolutely love digging into what emotions I want the reader to experience and work from there. I feel things very deeply, and I use that to my advantage when I’m writing.
I want readers who may not have had Summer’s specific experiences to understand exactly who she is and where she’s at through the emotions, she’s feeling and how she deals (or doesn’t deal) with them.
SGBC: What’s your writing process like? Has it changed at all since publishing your first novel Like Home?
Louisa Onomé: My writing process has become a bit less chaotic since Like Home, thankfully! While I don’t outline extensively, I try to write down key beats for each act, key scenes I want to write, and other tidbits that will help me form a structure.
When I wrote Like Home, I made it up as I went, which, in hindsight, and in my opinion, is both reckless and admirable!
SGBC: In your bio, you told us that when you are not writing; you work as a narrative designer for games. Do you have any tips for those struggling to balance writing and other commitments?
Louisa Onomé: I do! Take time for rest. I love writing, but I don’t love anything so much that I’d willingly forgo sleep. Just being honest!
If you’re feeling guilt around resting, or feel that you need “productive rest” (dislike. dislike. dislike), then take time to examine and break down those feelings. That’s actually your first obstacle to balance. Breaks are an important part of the process. Breaks are the process!
SGBC: YA novels are clearly your forte; however, are there any other genres that you would be interested in exploring one day?
Louisa Onomé: I’d love to write a romance one day. I love the genre; I love love, and I think it’d be fun. I just need to squash my inherent need to make my characters struggle and suffer.
SGBC: Finally, are there any new projects in the works that readers can look forward to?
Louisa Onomé: I’m actually working on an adult story that will be out in 2024, and that was a lot of fun to write!
I also have a graphic novel forthcoming with the lovely and crazy talented ONeillJones in 2025 called Revenge Arc about a group of girls at a kickboxing gym who decide to beat up a boy who’s being all the ‘ists to their friend. Good times.
It was a pleasure chatting with Louisa! Be sure to check out her website for more info on her upcoming releases.
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