Today’s interview is a bit different from the norm for so many reasons. We had the pleasure of interveiwing the delectable Toyin Poju-Oyemade. Although she has not written a book yet (because after this interview we knew we got a book title!) she’s doing something quite amazing for authors and the reading culture in Africa.
Wondering what that could be? She’s the brain behind Chapters, a program that seeks to explore, understand and learn principles of life and living specifically through books.
There’s so much wisdom and fun packed in one interview and we KNOW you would love it.
Hello. Can you please tell us who Mrs. Toyin Poju Oyemade is?
I am a simple young lady trying to discover and live God’s purpose for her life. I am a media person, studied Mass Communication from the University of Lagos. My passion lies in media, ministry and music and the key is to use those areas to touch and impact lives positively and for the kingdom of God.
What inspired Chapters? You could have done a show on music, why books?
For the longest time, I always knew I would have a show or shows. I had started that in the university and when I finished, I went into documentaries but I always knew I would have a flagship show for TV and the online space, I just did not know what it was. When I got married, I remember that my husband would ask me, ‘So what do you say it is that you’re going to do on TV?’ All sort of ideas had come up but I hadn’t felt that one thing that would at least be the first of many.
Flashback to 2015 I was reading a book, ‘And The Storm Came‘ by Kike Mudiaga where she tells her story of how she went through the loss of her family members and came through. The pain and the story at that particular time resonated with me because it showed how somebody could have gone through so much tragedy and loss, especially as a Christian and still come out whole and complete. It was a time in my life I was thinking about a lot of things and I was also becoming aware of the fact that there seems to be a lot of tragedy, pain and loss in life and people seem to get lost in that space. This was someone who had gone through that and came out to say I’m still standing.
I remember sitting down reading the book and telling myself ‘somebody needs to know this’, ‘how can I share this story?’ So I called a friend and that was when the idea of doing a show around books came up. I remembered that when Oprah was doing her show she had something called the Oprah Book Club, a segment of the show where she would talk about a certain book and why people should read it and sometimes she would have the author on the show and talk about the concept of the book. So I thought to myself, ‘Okay, what you are doing is not really different; the only thing is that you’re just taking that part and turning it into a show specifically.’ I called a couple of friends and asked, ‘What do you think about a show on books?’ One or two people thought it was amazing, we went back and forth and came up with the name, ‘ Chapters.’
There’s a saying that ‘if you want to hide something from an African man put it in a book.’ I do not like that notion and the truth is they’re so many things written in books that can transform our lives. I want Chapters to help people regain their reading culture and showcase Nigerian authors and books.
To have a show on books you must be a reader! What encouraged you to start reading and have you been able to sustain it with your very busy schedule?
I come from an academic family. I read Famous five, Secret Seven, Eze goes to school at a young age because reading was encouraged at home. Then I was an art student in school which involved a whole lot of reading. Besides, I believe reading is a part of my nature. I genuinely like to read. I’ve learnt that we are not as busy as we think we are. It just boils down to structure, lifestyle and balance. If you think the book is important you’d find a way to make sure you make yourself read.
One thing we are going to try to do with Chapters as well is create a book club because you need to find a way to help people have structure I always say: ‘If it’s a chapter a day, you’re fine; if it’s a page of a chapter a day, at least get something in your brain, get your brain thinking about something. ‘
If you know that you don’t read, you can start with fiction and then you can read deeper topics later but it is important to read. There’s a reason why there are books, and there’s a reason why the Bible was written in book format. It shows that books are important.
What of people who were not raised to read how can they learn to read?
First off, as long as you went to school you had to read. So nobody can say. ‘I don’t know how to read.’ You’ve just not rehearsed yourself in the practice of reading. I know so many people struggled through school because reading was hard but if they told you, ‘Open this book and 50 million dollars would come’ everyone would read! Sometimes you just need to find a compelling reason. If you feel reading is hard, audio books are available, just listen. Just start, start with something easy, start with a magazine, start with fashion, something fun. Just read.
It’s easy to advertise an entertainment show. How do you advertise Chapters?
Advertising Chapters is daily work, daily wisdom, and daily insight. We use social media mostly – Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube. I think one of the things that makes Chapters special is that every show is different because we’re talking about different authors, subjects and specific things that affect day to day living.
Season One had episodes on finance, wedding planning, leadership, teenage parenting and marriage. These are things that affect me and you so what we are marketing is not the show itself but the concept, the subject matter for that day. We are not just saying watch Chapters because it’s a show, we are saying, ‘Look 2019 is coming and we have an episode on leadership. Listen to this person’s take that may help you decide who you’re going to vote for.’ That makes the marketing more targeted and with social media you just have to find engaging ways to reach people.
The quality of the show is partly dependent on the the books you review. How do you select the books to read?
Selecting the books for Chapters can be interesting. For Season One I went to Laterna and Terra Kulture. We looked for books that spoke to specific issues, anything that concerned life and living with an interesting angle to it. I read through all the books to have an engaging conversation with the author and to ensure that the values are values I support or want to adopt.
What would Chapters do to anyone who watches it?
Chapters would educate you. We are an education platform, we’re here for knowledge dissemination and even if it’s not knowledge that you need now, there’s no knowledge gained in life that would not be useful to you. Chapters would empower you to make better decisions.
What’s your most interesting episode ever?
All of my episodes of Chapters have touched me but one of the books I like is the book called Conscious Life written by Funmi Oyetunji. It seemed like she sought to write a book that answers all the questions of life from the day you were born till you die. The book is such a complete conversation, broken down properly till the end. All of my books speak to one area of life but this book tried to bring everything into one book and she did massive research.
Zahra by Sola Aguda is another book and the only fiction book we’ve done. I went to Terra Kulture to look for books and one of the sellers talked about it. Fantastic one. How someone can tell a story about marriage and you’d be so educated? It’s simply an amazing book. Leadership by Dr. Maxwell Uba has also gotten so much traction.
What lessons have you learnt from birthing Chapters?
Wow, so many lessons!
1 Birthing any idea is hard work and you have to do the hard work to birth it.
2. Believe in yourself and your ideas. I remember when I wanted to start Chapters and I told somebody who I regard as a mentor and he told me nobody wants to watch this. I understand people see the world from their point of view and I had to believe in my dream and although this person has become a staunch supporter, if I had listened at that time, we wouldn’t be here. People did not see what you saw; so don’t expect them to respond to it the way you will.
3. Money doesn’t answer all questions. Many times what holds people back on their dreams is that they don’t have money. When I was going to do Chapters, I did not have all the money I needed. I leveraged on friends, relationships and work I had done in the past. I borrowed cameras and other equipment from different people. I couldn’t afford to pay for them but I leveraged. Learn to build bridges in life and understand that no man is an island. The same way you’d need people is the way people will need you. There are people around you that God has given you to help you birth your ideas. I got a space for free to shoot from someone whom I had volunteered with for free for seven years. You have to sow good seeds.
4. Sometimes the birthing of a dream can be tiring. I remember when we shot the first stage of Chapters, we had done nine episodes and I was tired emotionally exhausted. I was reading books so I was physically exhausted and because I didn’t have money to pay everybody, I was the writer, presenter, producer, director…everything. My brain cells were stretched. I was in a situation where they’d say ‘cut’ and I am thinking of the chapters I had not finished for the next episode. There was a time I had a shoot that morning and I hadn’t finished reading the book and I just told my husband, ‘You know what, I can’t even lie. I haven’t finished reading this book. Just read and tell me where I should focus on.’
I was financially tired and I almost entered into depression. We finished shooting and I couldn’t sit down with the editor. I was just like ‘who sent me message?’ The pressure of life is real, the excitement comes but can wash away quickly because the reward for work is more work. We recorded and now we had to edit. Some episodes were 40 minutes and I had to cut down to 25 minutes because it was on television.
5. When you’re birthing a child everything that can go wrong sometimes goes wrong. It doesn’t mean it’s a foolish idea or you’re not called, it just means life happened. One Tuesday morning, two of our ACs packed up and the two episodes we recorded that day couldn’t be used. We were sweating throughout and we kept saying, ‘Cut cut cut’. That was part of my depression, money wasted. Luckily, we were able to call back the two authors.
Shooting Season Two, it’s like the forces have said, ‘Even if the AC works, something else won’t work.’ The call time can be 10 am and we won’t do anything till 1 pm, but no matter the challenges, keep pushing. Your dreams will work.
The reward for work is more work
If there’s a purpose behind what you’re doing you won’t end after one level of glory.