Writer in Residence


By Yejide Kilanko

I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow; but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.
― Agatha Christie

It is my 46th birthday. When I first typed those words, it struck me that in two more years, I would have lived half of my life in North America. The time flew. 

Birthdays are important to me because I get to celebrate the privilege of getting to grow old. Bring on all that advertised wisdom and the senior discounts.

I’m home today. Seven years ago, I decided that I would no longer work on my birthdays. That decision is a privilege. I acknowledge that because not everyone gets to have that, especially in these days where the Covid-19 pandemic continues to cast a menacing shadow.

Yesterday, I stayed up until midnight to be the first person to say Happy Birthday to me. I've done that for as long as I can remember. I'm still not sure why that is important. But, once that digital clock tells me it's midnight, what happens is an elaborate musical production. It involves lots of singing and giggling. You should see me dance!

Every time, it reminds me of the final scene from the “Elves and The Shoemaker” in the Grimm's Fairy Tales book. As a child, I often imagined the joy on their faces.

As a reader, I enjoy behind-the-scenes information about the writers whose work I love. That is what I’m offering for my birthday. A peek into Yejide the person, served with a generous slice of chocolate chip coconut banana bread. It is my favourite dessert.

I’m a talker. It is a helpful personality trait for a social worker. If you happen to see me rocking while I'm seated it's because movement calms me. I know I have a quirky sense of humour. I adore people who make me belly laugh. Those people who start random conversations in crowded spaces, and don’t take themselves too seriously are my people.

As I sketched out this post, I realized that it was harder to talk about myself than I had thought. Because those who live with you know you the best, I decided to ask my family to each give me five descriptive words without overthinking the request. The child blessed with my “extra” personality offered six.

Here are the twenty-one attributes in no particular order;

• Eagle-Eyed
• Joyful
• Interesting
• Dauntless
• Expressive
• Kind
• Outgoing
• Comedic
• Peaceful
• Consistent
• Protective
• Anxious
• Determined
• Empathetic
• Mercurial
• Enigmatic
• Ambitious
• Curious
• Loyal
• Driven
• Elephant

Hmm. These people do know me well. I must say that hearing the words dauntless and mercurial brought me some parental validation. Those years of having my teens and young adult read our old and faithful Webster's New World dictionary had paid off.

The elephant attribute made me smile. Life and time have happened to my memory, but I do tend to remember things for the most part.

I remember the good and bad, small and big. In recent years, I have made a concerted effort to let go of the bad, celebrate the small, take better care of my emotional and physical health, and fully accept people for who they are while maintaining clear boundaries.

Perhaps there is something to that advertised wisdom after all.

See you next week.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Yejide Kilanko was born in Ibadan, Nigeria, and lives in Ontario, Canada, where she practices as a social worker. Kilanko’s debut novel, Daughters Who Walk This Path, is a Canadian national bestseller. The novel was longlisted for the 2016 Nigeria Literature Prize. Kilanko’s work includes a novella, Chasing Butterflies (2015), and two children’s picture books, There Is An Elephant in My Wardrobe (2019) and Juba and the Fireball (2020). You can find Kilanko’s short fiction on Brittle Paper, Joyland, New Orleans Review Issue 43, 2017: The African Literary Hustle, and Agbowó. Her latest novel, A Good Name, is out now. When she’s not busy with life, you’ll find Kilanko online playing simultaneous games of Scrabble.