Listen to Your Footsteps: Kojo Baffoe's life in books...
“An insightful memoir of Kojo growing up, navigating family and figuring out his contribution to the world that reads as a beautiful ode to his father. With every word he writes there is a sense of responsibility to leave the world better than he found it. A true wordsmith; the landscape of his memories dances on the page.” – Tumi Morake, comedian and author of And then Mama Said
Kojo Baffoe is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur and self-proclaimed retired poet. He has published two collections of poetry, Voices in My Head along with And They Say: Black Men Don’t Write Love Poetry. He has edited magazines such as Blaque, Destiny Man and Afropolitan and is also the former host of ‘Life with Kojo Baffoe’ on Kaya FM.
Kojo on Listen to Your Footsteps
Listen To Your Footsteps is a glimpse into lessons I have learned over the last 40 plus years of my life, with a particular focus on how my parents – both in their presence and absence – shaped me into the person I am today and how having children has forced me to be a lot more deliberate about how I live my life. It is my views on the world, born out of my triumphs and my stumbles along the way. I think about a lot of random things and Listen To Your Footsteps is an opportunity to share some of those things.
The book you give as a gift?
There have been multiple books. At some stage, it was Tim Ferriss’s The Four-Hour Work Week because of how it influenced my understanding of lifestyle design, in essence crafting one’s life in the best way possible. I have also gifted Jeff Chang’s Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop to a couple of friends. A great book on hip hop. I collect hip hop books. Truth be told, I don’t give away books much.
Books that made you...
The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told To Alex Haley. I am not sure why this story resonated with me so much from when I first read it – probably around the age of 12/13. I eventually built a collection of books around Malcolm X and his speeches.
Is there a book you wish you had written?
I do, sometimes, wish I could write fiction like Paul Beatty. White Boy Shuffle, Tuff, Slumberland, The Sellout. I love all his books. Witty, funny, comfortable, thoughtful, provoking and contemporary.
Your earliest reading memory or your favourite childhood book?
I don’t have a specific memory. As a child, I loved the Hardy Boys and the Nancy Drew series of books. For some reason, a book I always remember from childhood is Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince. I also had the German version Der kleine Prinz and, later, Le Petit Prince. My father also used to get me collections of fairytales from Disney Book Club and Reader’s Digest so I read a lot of those as a child. I also had an affinity for Sherlock Holmes and Oscar Wilde stories from a young age. In high school, I went through all of Agatha Christie’s books and was a big fan of Louis L’Amour’s Westerns.
Which book do you find yourself returning to and why?
The one book I have probably read more than any other is Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 and I have no idea why. I first read it in 1990 and recently reread it for what is at least the 10th time in the last 20 years.
The book almost everyone you know has read but you haven’t?
Off the top of my head, Toni Morrison's Beloved and Bell Hooks’ All About Love. They are both on my long to-read list.
What's the one book you wish you could read again for the first time?
It would have to be Paul Beatty’s The White Boy Shuffle. It had me laughing out loud in the first couple of pages and while, on re-reading, it still delights me, I don’t laugh out loud anymore.
How do you organise your bookshelf – books by colour, alphabetically or height and size?
More by height and size. I like symmetry and consistency. I will have books of a similar height on the same shelf. That said, it can get a bit messy as I keep adding books and I am probably overdue a bookshelf spring-cleaning. Plus the pile on the floor and my work desk need to be transferred to a bookshelf.
The book that had the greatest influence on your writing (or you read when writing Listen to Your Footsteps).
I was still actively reading while writing Listen To Your Footsteps so there isn’t one single book. From a craft of writing perspective, I read Stephen King On Writing, Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art and Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir. I read books like Neil Gaiman’s The View From The Cheap Seats, Muhammed Ali’s The Soul of a Butterfly, Skin’s It Takes Blood and Guts, Bassey Ikpi’s I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying, Lenny Kravitz’s Let Love Rule and Common’s Let Love Have The Last Word for both just for the enjoyment as well as from a style and tone perspective. The moments when I would get over the feelings of inadequacy around whether my writing measured up, I was able to absorb ways in which to present my own ideas. In between these, I read a whole bunch of other books. My reading target for 2020 was 50 books, I did about 55 and included everything from the writing of Terry Pratchett and Marlon James to books on productivity, music, stoicism and poetry. Guess this a long winded way of saying, there wasn’t a single book that I could say had the greatest influence on my writing, in general, and writing Listen To Your Footsteps specifically.
Five books you would recommend to a stranger?
It really would depend on where they are at the time – spiritually, mentally, etc - and what is going in their life. These would change accordingly and would probably be different if I compiled a list a week from now but here goes:
- Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now
- Neil Gaiman’s American Gods
- Wole Soyinka’s You Must Set Forth At Dawn
- BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits
- Carl Hancock Rux’s Asphalt
Books, books, books
TO AVOID writing by reading seems a strange thing to do. Or not. Too often I read the words of others and conclude that, perhaps, the world is better suited to having their words than mine. You are reading this so, fortunately, for me at least, that conclusion is a temporary one.
Reading is a two-way conversation between writer and reader. It is the reader who gives the words meaning and life and, sometimes, when reading something, I have an internal conversation with the author, wanting to put into words what I would say to them if we met. And then I don’t write anything but simply shift on to the next page.
Until this page…
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Watch Kojo introducing Listen to Your Footsteps: Essays and Reflections.