There is something powerful about the way words can be weaved, and Akotowaa, also known as “The Spider Kid,” weaves her words through spoken word, script, fiction, non-fiction, and her blog posts. She is also a lexivist (a word she created!) and has a short story series titled, “On the Ceiling,” as well as many other publications. This interview promises to be a riveting one so let’s get straight to it!
Photo of Akotowaa
Photo Credit: Kofi Sekyi-Appiah
Ayeyi: Hello Akotowaa. How have been spending your days?
Akotowaa: A filmmaker who pops onto my timeline often has said that during quarantine, time has stopped existing, and we’re all existing in a realm of non-linear stew. So I don’t know that I’ve been “spending my days” so much as I’ve been swirling in the stew with no discernible sleep pattern. When I’m conscious, I will usually attend to at least one of my several writing projects, watch some TV (I May Destroy You is one of the dopest things to ever hit the airwaves), reading some books, or trying to motivate my lethargic self to work out.
Ayeyi: (smiles) This has definitely got to be one of the most interesting and unexpected responses, I’ve received to this question. Love it. So to begin, can you please tell us the meaning behind your name, Akotowaa?
Akotowaa: Akoto and its female version Akotowaa is a name that has been passed down in one of my family lines for several, several generations. Apparently, we’re connected to a line of Akwamu chiefs, and there’s a very interesting folktale/historical account about the first person to bear the name. It involved a fateful prophecy about the greatest leader to ever be born to the Akwamu tribe, the would-be mother of that boy eating some food she wasn’t supposed to touch, and thus getting murdered for it. The tribe couldn’t accept losing their prophesied child for the mother’s sins, and so the child was extracted from the mother via what can only be described as a crude C-section. So, the mother died and the child was called “Akɔ tu,” translating roughly to something like “gone and pulled forth” in Twi. “Akɔ tu” morphed into Akoto, and so my great-aunt believes the name means “brought or pulled forth for an intended purpose.”
Ayeyi: What a captivating story to the meaning of a name!
Photo of Akotowaa
Ayeyi: Still on the meaning of names, you also refer to yourself as the Spider Kid. Is there any particular reason why?
Akotowaa: It weaves beautiful webs and it’s able to eat off its art. The metaphor of a spider as a creature with a self-sustainable career does brilliant things for my motivation as I pursue creative careers. On a more cultural level, the spider is important to me because of its Akan symbolism. I’m a Ghanaian storyteller with Akan blood flowing in me, and typically, when one thinks of Akan stories, a certain spidery character called Kwaku Ananse comes to mind. And the spider web – the Adinkra symbol, Ananse Ntentan – is the symbol of creativity and wisdom in Akan culture. There are so many connections, all tangled together. Calling myself The Spider Kid is, for me, an affirmation of my creative identity.
Ayeyi: Hmmm, that’s pretty deep; connecting the connotation of a spider to an affirmation of your creative identity. On the topic of creativity, when you are writing, which target audience do you have in mind?
Akotowaa: I’m going to be somewhat cheesy and say “myself.” I think to myself, “God, I wish I could read a story or an article about XYZ.” And then the Spider Kid replies, “Why not just write it?” and so I do. Sometimes I will target a specific version of my existence. I might write a story I wish the childhood version of me could have read, and another time, a story that appeals to me specifically as a woman, and then yet another time, a story that appeals to my experience as a 21st century middle class Ghanaian. My target audience is myself in different states of mind, and because I’m human, the material tends to resonate with other humans in similar states of mind.
Photo of Akotowaa
Ayeyi: Are there any books or authors that have greatly influenced your writing and if so, how?
Akotowaa: The very first authors who made me want to write were Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton. Some of my earliest creative writing attempts as a child were Accra-based re-imaginings of Blyton’s stories. Later, Rick Riordan became a huge influence regarding the incorporation of old mythology into modern fiction. Soon afterwards, Nnedi Okorafor began forcing my mind open with the sheer ingenuity of ideas. These days, I think I strive to capture the kind of depth I see within Octavia Butler’s science fiction and the excitement I experience with Cornelia Funke’s fantasy.
Ayeyi: Ouu, mentioning those authors also brought back vivid childhood memories for me. So, in the latter part of 2016, you released your debut spoken word EP titled, “Solitaire.” What was the inspiration behind this EP?
Akotowaa: Quite frankly, my own sense of solitude. Who knew being sad and lonely could make you so creative? Haha. But on the real, maybe something important was documented in my Solitaire EP phase, but I hope to God I don’t experience the kind of season that led to the birthing of those poems/songs ever again.
SoundCloud link to Akotowaa’s Solitaire EP
Ayeyi: In your spoken word and in your blog posts, you have addressed themes such as anxiety and depression. In your opinion, what do you think can be done to help people battling with these and mental health issues, in general?
Akotowaa: Listening thoroughly and comprehensively to those struggling, before trying to speak at them, or deliver lectures, or “fix” them. Believing that they are dealing with something extremely real to them, not made up for attention or some other self-indulgent reason. It’s common that the knee-jerk reactions to people suffering are to dismiss or silence them, to shove them off to a pastor to be exorcised or a psychiatrist to be medicated. But in my observation, the circumstances around the person who is suffering can be as “wrong” as the person’s own brain chemistry. So perhaps when we get into “fix” mode, we should ask ourselves, “What changes might make this person’s environment healthier for them?” rather than trying to figure out how to force them to operate like the “normal people” within an environment they may never have been designed for.
Ayeyi: Penning this down as a reminder of one of the ways I can help as well. Akotowaa, for the days when writing seems to be harder than usual, how are you able to deal with writer’s block?
Akotowaa: By watching TV that excites me. Or reading some brilliant fantasy. Sometimes the words don’t want to come because I’m exhausted. So instead of trying to pour out, I consume; I pour in. If it’s good TV, I might think, “This is so cool, I want to do some!” If it’s bad TV, I might think, “This is so trash, even I could have done better.” And sooner or later, I feel like writing again.
Photo of Akotowaa
Photo Credit: Selasi Adedze
Ayeyi: As we near the end of this interview, can you tell us how the ability to tell a story through words has had an impact on you?
Akotowaa: It may sound like an exaggeration, but it has kept me alive. Writing is an all-purpose activity for me. It can be a distraction or a way to face what needs to be faced. It can be a way to release my overwhelming emotions or a way to fill me with emotions when I start feeling numb to everything. Sometimes, the story isn’t even as important as the fact that I’m writing it. It’s the act of creation itself that makes me feel like life is worth living.
Ayeyi: That’s pretty profound, Akotowaa. Lastly, for those who want to follow you, what social media handles should they use?
Ayeyi: Akotowaa, thank you for this dialogue. You have a unique way of capturing your audiences, whether through writing or spoken word, and I wish you pure successes in the future.
Akotowaa: Thank you so much! I enjoyed this interview!
Photo of Akotowaa
Photo Credit: Reina Hernandez