Damilare Kuku Captures The Transformative Powers of Humour in “Only Big Bumbum Matters Tomorrow”

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Damilare Kuku has enjoyed a meteoric rise in Nigeria’s literary scene. Her unique brand of light-hearted fiction, skillfully mixing irreverent humor with a tongue-in-cheek exploration of social issues, has captivated a broad audience. A blend of marketing genius, outlandish titles, and thematic relatability has propelled her toward pop fiction stardom.

Emerging at a time when arguments pertaining to the death of Nigerian literature became fiercer, she has enjoyed the warm embrace of the country’s book lovers.

Published in 2021 by Masobe Books, Nearly All The Men In Lagos Are Mad, Kuku’s debut collection of short stories, was a huge commercial success. It was the bestselling book in 2022. From being a staple in book clubs to sitting atop office desks of middle-class Nigerian women, the book’s yellow cover was ubiquitous.

Kuku’s latest effort, Only Big Bumbum Matters Tomorrow, is a novel spanning two decades, with events playing out across major cities in South-West Nigeria. A few days after her father is laid to rest, twenty-year-old Temi disrupts the reading of his will by announcing that she’ll be undergoing a Brazilian butt lift – a procedure that involves transferring fat deposits from other parts of the body and inserting them into the buttocks to create an hourglass body shape – much to her relatives’ dismay. The women in the room harangue her but, as old wounds reopen, are forced to reflect on their past decisions and the trajectories of their respective lives. 

Deploying her trademark humor and foregrounding the perspectives of five women, Kuku paints a collage of modern womanhood. She spotlights, using accessible prose, body dysmorphia, sexuality, beauty standards, trans-generational dynamics, and misogyny. Ahead of the book’s release, the author caught up with Culture Custodian to discuss the novel’s themes and stylistic choices.

Between her previous and forthcoming work, Kuku is known for outlandish titles, which she attributes to divine revelation. For her new book, she says it took a year before the title came to her.

“It may seem incredible, but I get my titles from God. Sometimes waiting can be a long process. I remember talking to my friend about how I was finding it difficult, especially because I had another title in mind, but it was worth it in the end.”

Kuku has never been shy about her religious leanings, and as the conversation progresses, her face lights up with a smile when she elaborates on how her Christian faith permeates nearly every aspect of her craft.

“I get a lot of my inspiration after I have prayed. I had wondered how I was going to proceed with this story, and then the characters started talking to me, and let me into their world. I am just deeply influenced by the Holy Spirit and by the stories of the people that I meet every day in my life.”

Only Big Bumbum Matters Tomorrow is primarily set in Ile-Ife, the city where Kuku was born and raised.  She acknowledges that her work is driven by a sense of place, as captured across the stories in Nearly All The Men In Lagos Are Mad. She says that the new novel’s setting is a tribute to her childhood. She also recalls grappling with the passing of her grandmother, whom she had lived with as a child in Ile-Ife, midway through writing it. 

Kuku reveals that it took ten years for the ideas in her head to marinate before she got around to writing the novel’s first paragraph. She also notes that beyond her desire to contribute to social commentary, she was inspired by observing real-life experiences, particularly the increased demand for cosmetic surgery in the past decade.

“I know it sounds like a cliché, but society is a small village, and the moment you start writing, you will discover that people are going through this thing (body dysmorphia). I’m not against it (cosmetic surgery), but if you are doing it to gain the validation of others and not for yourself, then some introspection is important.”

The journeys of the central characters are illustrated via multiple narrative styles, which add verve to the story. Each woman has a strong sense of voice, a conscious decision according to Kuku, who says it was the best way to have people walk in their shoes rather than rely on an omniscient narrator which could have been limiting for her.

“With the protagonist, there was no better way to make people wear her shoes than the second-person narrative. For the other characters, I wanted to hold a mirror to the tendency of human beings to have such strong, authoritative opinions on other people’s lives and personalities without even knowing the complete story. Alternating these styles was very deliberate for me; I wanted people to view these characters from different angles, and I also wanted to have fun with multiple points of view.”

Kuku brings her wit to bear in this novel, tackling the book’s themes with humor, but with just enough balance to avoid diluting the solemn tone. For her, laughter is a doorway to processing vulnerability easily.

“The best way to pass a message is to make it funny. I feel that in navigating pain, being able to laugh at it makes it a lot easier. Nearly All The Men In Lagos Are Mad had funny stories, but beneath it all, there were underlying lessons on the need to be kind and empathetic. I don’t know how else to say stuff that will be memorable if I don’t sprinkle humor into it. I am funny with my friends and family members, and I translate that into my writing. The world is already heavy, so when you pick up a work of literature, it would be nice to get some comfort and escapism.”

Kuku is aware of the ongoing debates surrounding modern African literature, particularly about the perception of pop fiction in the zeitgeist, the opinions of purists, and the theories of Western validation. However, she thinks that the field is large enough for everyone and that all forms of literature are valid.

“Art comes to people in different ways. I thrive on light-hearted prose, but that doesn’t have to be the case for other writers, and it doesn’t make their work less readable. I have seen those conversations, but in consuming fiction, I pay more attention to my journey with the characters, without necessarily focusing on the ‘trauma.’ I am happy that my work is regarded as a ‘breath of fresh air’, but that takes nothing away from any other writer because it’s a big deal to sit down and write a book. Let’s be respectful to people’s journeys and craft.”

Can any creative be totally indifferent about public reactions to their work? Kuku thinks that it’s impossible, but says that she does a fairly good job of filtering comments on social media, and blocking out the negativity.

“I don’t go out looking for them, but my sisters see some and send them to me. For the most part, I intentionally avoid them. When the title of this book was announced on X, it was a writer friend who told me it was trending. I went there, saw a few comments along the lines of ‘not again’ and closed the app immediately. I take constructive feedback because it matters to my craft, but I shut out the vile comments, and in any case, the naysayers will still end up buying the book, if only to fuel their vitriol.”

Only Big Bumbum Matters Tomorrow is published by Ouida Books in Nigeria, Pan Macmillan in South Africa, HarperVia Books in the United States, and Simon & Schuster in the United Kingdom. It is in now available in bookstores.

 


Jerry Chiemeke is a communications executive, film critic, journalist, and lawyer. His works have appeared in Berlinale Press, Die Welt, and The Africa Report, among others. Jerry lives in London, where he writes on Nollywood, African literature, and Nigerian music. He is the author of “Dreaming of Ways to Understand You” a collection of short stories.