9jafeminista: You started Parresia about five years ago as a working girl, with some years as an editor with Farafina and absolutely no experience as a business woman. How would you describe this journey?
AOO: The groundwork, the thinking, the conceiving and all the molecules that would make up the structure of Parrésia Publishers Ltd, began in 2011. So that’s four years ago not five. Yes, I worked as an Editor for Farafina Magazine before then and Yes, I absolutely had no experience as a business woman. The only thing that made sense was the fact I loved books and I wanted to see more of them published. And this only happened after Femi, my brother, asked “why would you want to start a Literary Agency, when you can go the whole nine yards and publish books?” So I said Okay in that clueless way I normally do and Parresia after the name was chosen, was birthed with the help of Richard Ali who came on as co-owner.
The journey happened and that’s why I almost gave up at one point when I discovered publishing isn’t just about loving books or getting them published but making money out of it, which ensures your operational side stays lubricated.
9jafeminista: Oh wait! So you mean the rumours making the rounds in literary circles that Richard Ali owns Parrésia is true?
AOO: They aren’t rumours Richard Ali co-owns Parrésia Publishers. When Parrésia started, it was a company between friends. I was the financier and he would be the operations person. It was a handshake based on mutual respect Yes. A lot has also happened to create several impressions. But you don’t see me for instance going up in people’s faces laying claims or saying the company revolves around me. No, you won’t. What’s important is I love books, I print Books. I see it as a business which must survive. The titles, the ownership structure, are Secondary. I’ve never been in a forum where I had to emphasise my role or my importance, if I was, I wouldn’t be caught doing it anyway. Parrésia is about the passion for Books and not the fight for ownership nor the extreme importance of its titles. And this is something I learnt and I came to adopt from Farafina. The structure was flat. The titles of the individuals did not matter. Getting the work did. That is what was important.
9jafeminista: Do you think this handshake kind of agreement can bring about bad blood?
AOO: Yes! But we [Richard Ali and I] understand that this is based on the fact that Parrésia was a fledgling publishing house when it started but in such a short while it has become one of the big publishing houses to be reckoned with. [But this largely] depends on the Individual. If in the beginning, I chose to use the title Managing Editor because I felt more comfortable with it, and out of necessity (because things have evolved) I now use CEO and Managing Editor despite the fact that I think it’s totally cumbersome. So certain things had to happen to ensure bad blood was not allowed to spill physically.
9jafeminista: Any plans to make an improvement in both service delivery and structure?
Life constantly evolves and so will Parrésia. We have things we keep working on. Ideas we keep having and mistakes we keep making in the process to be better. Parrésia is still a long way off from being a Company that can stand in line with let’s say Farafina or Cassava Republic. There’s still so much to do, but we’ll get there. And what’s important is we have the Passion to make it succeed.
9jafeminista: One of the common things the new publishing houses in Nigeria (those that evolved in the 2000’s Farafina, Cassava Republic to name but two) is their love for Nigerian literature and determination to spread our literature across the globe.But as we know this doesn’t mean that these you guys have bottomless pockets or unending sources of funding, how have you managed to keep Parrésia above the waters of incompetence, the governments apparent disinterest in Nigeria’s struggling publishing industry and all the other risks associated with this industry?
I’d like to say it isn’t just Nigerian Literature Parrésia is interested in, African Literature too. But yes, what is closest to the mission is to see the best of Nigerian Literature published first. In our first year or second, Toni Kan predicted that if we were not careful we might end up shutting down. He was right. So right, I had my first major desire to throw my arms up and walk away. But then things have a way of working out. I have a very supportive family and they came to the rescue. Especially my husband. From this experience, I learnt to be more careful.
Then there’s the Origami Imprint which is for self-publishers. This imprint manages to keep our account from being red even if there’s nothing in it at the end of the day.
9jafeminista: One of the falsehoods usually peddled by ‘anti feminists’ is that women are jealous of one another’s successes, would you say you’ve found this true of yourself?
AOO: Hell no! Although I think Women should have a more united, indivisible front. My friend and sister Ayodele Olofintuade recently officially announced her publishing company. To be jealous of her or any other progressive woman would be a show of daftness.
9jafeminista: And finally, how would you describe your transition from a working girl to a business owner?
AOO: From Fawning to Naïve and then a Total Wreck to Facing My Demons, Fighting and most importantly staying Focused!