Black Women Creators: Lola Kolade and Heather Akumiah
Heather Akumiah and Lola Kolade are the authors of The Typic Witches. They both hold degrees in creative writing from Columbia University. We spoke to them about their novel and being creators.
Black Girls Create: What do you create?
Heather: We are writing a serialized novel about three Black girls who find out they’re witches on their 22nd birthday. Personally, I create scarves, baked goods, and short stories.
Lola: In addition to The Typic Witches, I write other novels, short stories, and I do a lot of fuse beading, which is basically those beads that you used to do as a kid that you can iron and make crafts with.
BGC: How did you get the idea to write The Typic Witches?
Heather: In my senior year of undergrad I took a required class that made us try a bunch of different genres of writing. One of the things we had to do was a really short screenplay. I did mine about three girls who were witches in college and are in a club together. And it was pretty different from the way we wrote The Typic Witches, for example, they all practiced voodoo. So I wrote it and finished it, but it was not something I was interested in working with again. But then shortly after graduating, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed and Lola had tweeted about doing something that was similar to what I had worked on.
Lola: Yeah so over the summer, I was just kind of randomly joking and tweeted, “Who wants to help me make a web series about witches of color living in New York City?” I totally thought that it would just kind of be out in the world and then die because I have no Twitter followers. But after seeing it, Heather texted me and was like, “Hey I’ve written this script if you’re actually interested in doing something, we could actually make that happen.” I was interested because I knew that she’d actually done a web series while we were in college. So we started meeting weekly to outline a season, but realized pretty quickly that making a web series -- getting the people to act in it, the cameras, editing magic in a way that didn’t look terrible -- would be really time-consuming, so we started to switch gears and think about other ways that we could use the concept.
Heather: When we first started writing we outlined one or two episodes, so that’s part of what drew us to this serialized format. But we also felt like it was so appropriate for our time right now, and the way people consume media.
BGC: Is this your first project?
Lola: It’s our first project together. I’ve written a novel that I’m in the process of revising right now, and we both have written separate stuff all throughout college.
Heather: I’ve written fiction and some nonfiction throughout college. I also did a web series in college that I wrote, produced, and directed. It was called Drama @ CU and followed six Columbia students. It was a fake reality TV show because I love reality TV and I think it’s a bizarre and fascinating format. I don’t know if you’ve seen Real Husbands of Hollywood, I haven’t, but apparently, it’s the same sort of concept where it’s a scripted reality show.
BGC: How has it been, working together? How do you hold each other accountable and make sure you both have a voice within the story you’re telling?
Heather: Writing together was something neither of us had ever done and is sort of a weird concept when writing prose, but what was really helpful in making sure that neither of us was having trouble being heard is that we wrote in the style of Gossip Girl. It was a really conscious decision on both of our parts because individually it’s not a style of writing that either of us aspires to or is interested in doing. But it is a good way of making sure that neither of our individual voices is drowned out. And it also obviously serves the message and the energy of the story, which is just supposed to be lighthearted and fun.
Lola: And outside of that, just in terms of actually outlining the story, it was just super collaborative off jump, so I don’t think that there is anything that has made it into the story that is just wholly one person’s idea. Everything is a hybrid.
BGC: So how do you decide who gets to write certain sections or characters once you’ve created the outline?
Heather: Something that carried over from when we were outlining it as a web series was that we broke it into scenes, so initially we would just alternate writing scenes. And then if at any point we felt like one of us was writing one character too much, we would adjust so that we could both get to equal time with each character.
Lola: When we standardized our process more, we did it so that we were alternating each character’s perspective each chapter. So it’s a good way of making sure that we knew what was happening in each chapter, which can get kind of lost in translation when you’re writing with another person.
BGC: What do you hope people get out of the story/your work?
Lola: What I hope this story does, in particular, is create this community of young Black women who get to see themselves doing something fun and happy as opposed to all of these really “tough,” “urban,” stories that Black women are often represented in or having to grasp at scraps. Like even with the whole Black Hermione thing, so many Black women have read her as a Black character, but there’s nothing that explicitly says that and I think that was something that was important for us, was for it to be explicitly about and for Black women.
Heather: Another thing is that I feel like when I was growing up there was this leap from having a handful of children’s books with Black characters to then being like oh now it’s time to read Toni Morrison. And I feel like it’s not a coincidence that there’s a gap there where there should be depictions of Black girlhood and Black female youth, and not just Black girl hidden times of strife and struggle. We wanted to show Black girls doing leisure activities and enjoying the company of other Black girls and we just want young Black girls to be able to read a world that resembles theirs.
BGC: Who is your audience?
Lola: First and foremost Black women from anywhere from the age 16 to 30. But broadly speaking, if you are at all interested in the idea of young women having fun then I think you would enjoy our story.
Heather: Or if you’re interested in pop culture, if you read Gossip Girl, if you like YA, if you like reading about young women of color, or witchcraft, that’s what we’re doing.
BGC: Who or what inspired you to do what you do? Who or what continues to inspire you?
Lola: I think that for me personally, definitely my mom. She’s not artsy or creative but she’s just accomplished a ton while raising a family. In terms of this project, something that has been really inspiring is the army of Black women that have mobilized to make it happen for us. From our mothers to our friends who were our first group of readers, our web developer, the people who helped us put together our launch party, there have been so many -- the people who write to us on Tumblr telling us they love our story. So many Black women have really come together to kind of make sure that The Typic Witches is out in the world and is doing what it is and I think those are the people that really inspire me to keep going with the project.
Heather: When we were writing the project, most of the references and the jokes that we made and the things we embedded into the story were because we knew that if a Black girl came upon it she’s going to think like this is so funny, she’s going to think this is so cool. So in terms of who inspired me during this writing process, thinking of other Black girls, my Black girlfriends, thinking of them having something that was entertaining to them to read is what kept me going when we were writing.
BGC: Why is it important as a Black person to create?
Lola: I don’t know that I’ve ever really thought about myself as a Black creator in particular. And I don’t mean that in like I distance myself from my Blackness in any way, but it’s just that when I write stories about Black girls and women I do that because I am a Black woman who was a Black girl, that’s my life experience, and those are the people who are around me and that I care about and who I want to enjoy my work. So there is a politicized message quality to that in that I think about those people and rendering them accurately, but I really just think that if you want to create you should create, and not necessarily feel the burden of representing Black people broadly.
Heather: I would say it sort of just has been my instinct to make things and to create. Obviously, it’s important for Black people to create so that we can contribute our own views of ourselves to the world at large. I think more than it being important to create -- because I think it’s something that might be instinctual to a lot of people -- it’s important to persist. Because there are a lot more boundaries for us than for other creators. So I think in the back of my head when I’m writing or creating I don’t think as much about how my creative process is different, I think about how the process to get my work out might be different.
BGC: How do you balance creating with the rest of your life?
Heather: I just squeeze it in, I don’t know. Like I said, it’s instinctive, so it is something I want to do in my free time. It’s basically what I think about when I’m doing anything else.
Lola: I agree, I generally squeeze it in. Especially throughout the process of writing this novel, I’ve become more regimented about it in terms of forcing myself to fit it in as opposed to telling myself I’ll get to it next time. But yeah, there’s no time in my day when I’m not thinking of something I’m writing.
BGC: Any advice for young creators or ones just starting?
Lola: I think the best advice is just to do it if you can. That’s what was so exciting about taking the prose format as opposed to the series format, it took away any of the barriers that could have told us not to go forward with this, because it was just up to us to make the time to write it. So if there are no obstacles in your path and you can do what you want to do, you should definitely do it.
Heather: I would also say to give yourself wiggle room and a bit of flexibility for what your ideal creative projects are, because I think if someone had told me my senior year of college -- or even six months before we started this project -- that I would be working with another writer on a novel, I would’ve been like that’s weird, I’m not doing that. But it’s turned into this thing that I’m so proud of and that I think is amazing so I think having some flexibility and letting yourself go where your creative process takes you can definitely help serve you in the end.
BGC: Any future or dream projects?
Heather: As far as creative projects, it’s always short stories. They will always be what I’m working on, what I want to be working on, and what I want to be out next.
Lola: For me, there’s this monster of a novel that I’ve been working on for like years now. I finally, hopefully, have some interest in it, so I’m working on a big revision in that project which is what’s consuming my time. But if I had all of the resources in the world to do whatever I wanted, I’d want to do a massive Planet Earth-style documentary, but just charting famous Black women creatives throughout history. So like a huge anthology of writers and dancers and playwrights and actresses because I feel like so much of that history kind of disappears.