‘Pemi Aguda on the Influence of Miami on Her Upcoming Novel
In Conversation with Miami Book Fair's Emerging Writer Fellow
Miami Book Fair’s Emerging Writer Fellowships program offers a life-changing experience to fresh literary voices. Through the generous sponsorship of the Jorge M. Pérez Family Foundation at the Miami Foundation, they select three program recipients who will enjoy critical mentorship from a nationally established author in their respective genre, as well as a host of other strategic supports.
Below is with 2021 fellow ‘Pemi Aguda about her experience during the fellowship year. The deadline for this year’s fellowship is May 31, 2022. Apply now!
How did living in Miami affect your writing?
A small wonderful thing is that I got to live beside the beach, and because my novel is set in a coastal city that has some similarities to Miami, that connection felt serendipitous.
Your mentor for the fellowship was Edwidge Danticat, how was your experience working with her? What’s one of the most striking writing pieces of advice Edwidge gave you?
Working with Edwidge Danticat was the highlight of my fellowship year. She was lovely and kind, brimming with personal and professional advice, with gifts and books. In the middle of the chaos of rewriting my novel, Edwidge sent me an article reminding me that so many of the great books we love were rewritten many times. It is something I return to—that I’m not alone, and that the toil of writing a book is not unique.
With Edwidge’s mentoring, did it give you a better idea of how you wanted to tackle your book?
I had a draft before the fellowship year. But after my first mentorship meeting with Edwidge, her feedback helped me reimagine what the book could do.
Did you find the processing of setting up (moving, housing, starting a routine) in Miami easier than anticipated?
I used a good chunk of my first month to settle in, but once the housing and the furnishing and utilities were sorted, it was easy to fall into a routine.
Was there anything difficult to balance while writing?
No. The fellowship is wonderful about giving you all the space you need to focus on writing alone.
Do you think you would have finished your novel if you hadn’t done the fellowship, or did the one year give you the push to finish your novel?
Perhaps not. The fellowship year definitely gave me the push—and space—to reimagine and rewrite my novel and bring it closer to the finish line.
Were you allowed to work while doing the fellowship year? If you did or didn’t, do you think that would have affected your ability to complete your novel?
The fellowship came with a stipend that allowed me not to work for the year, and yes, that singular focus helped steep me in the novel fog for days on end without wondering where dinner would come from.
What is something you would recommend for someone applying or a piece of advice for future fellows for completing all their goals?
For applicants, I would think really minutely about how you would spend a year on this project—and while our plans sometimes (often?) get thrown out, I find the exercise useful to think through what exactly the book needs, step by step. And for future fellows, a routine helps, I think—even if it’s devoting a slice of the day to rereading your pages. Miami is full of wonderful visual art, and I would encourage engaging with that. It fed my work in the most surprising ways.
‘Pemi Aguda is from Lagos, Nigeria, and a graduate of the Helen Zell Writers’ Program. Her work has been supported by the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, an Octavia Butler Memorial Scholarship from the Carl Brandon Society, and an Emerging Writer fellowship from Aspen Summer Words. Her novel manuscript won the 2020 Deborah Rogers Foundation Writers Award.