Interview: Dare Segun Falowo on “Kikelomo Ultrasheen”


Dare Segun FalowoTell us a bit about “Kikelomo Ultrasheen.”

“Kilelomo Ultrasheen” is the story of a birth into power based on my relationship with hair. I have very ordinary coarse hair, “goat-droppings” as they say, but I grew up in a hairdressing salon, in assistance of my mother. It was very interesting to remember how I dwelt in that completely feminine space while still trying to find boyness, in that feeling of being surrounded by false hair and creams and nail polish. To write the story I had to also remember the pain and bliss of the customers when they had the right ‘hand’ on their head and make that into a sort of vague magic system. You see some people’s hands just hurt your head and others bring your peace.

What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

A while back, FIYAH declared a Hair Issue and the deadline was about a week after I found out. So I didn’t want to write it, but I kept on confronting myself about how hair is a fundamental part of my life. I still visit my mother’s hair salon to collect the house key and sometimes chill with the babies of customers. The energy remains the same. There’s a meditation to watching a million thin braids grow out of a living head. I also marvel at how well some my mother’s stylists (actual assistants who want to learn the secrets of the work) adapt to specific aspects of hair making. They get so good that they become the only ones who know how to do this specific thing and the customers refuse all who try to do it, until they arrive. I learnt to see value as a symptom of putting your back into it and doing the right actions, though watching hairdressing.

Was “Kikelomo Ultrasheen” personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

Well, as I’ve stated, I grew up around hair. I worked and washed and rolled Nigerian hair for the dryer a lot. I could do long braids but never mastered the cornrow. Washing hair is pure therapy and I wish we all made it a clause in our friendships. Touching another person’s head is the height of spiritual ministration, so I attempted to envision the rise of an unwilling priestess of the head via hairstyling. The head is also known as ori in Yoruba metaphysics. Ori is the center of all being: the Yoruba knew this before Western science declared the brain the computer of the body.

Can you tell us about any of the research you may have done for this story?

Memory sifting and asking my baby sister, Faith, to give me a list of her favorite hairstyles. My mother also added some corrections. The rest was a result of immersion and rewriting till balance presented itself.

Can you tell us anything about your writing process for this story?

When my sister gave me her list of hairstyles, I realized writing it in chunks with each ingeniously named hairstyle as verse title would best reveal the authenticity of the tale. I wrote fast and got rejected, probably because the story was still quite amorphous, so fresh. I got several rewrites and edits in and retried submission at F&SF. The rest is history.

Why do you write?

Freedom from obscurity. To unravel and reveal that which hovers beneath and at the back, the rush of big feeling that dictates my life. Sometimes, I feel writing will never capture just how much there is to feel and see, but I must continue. Looking through a pinhole best defines the process. It can be stressful and it can be exhilarating, but reduced to basics for me; it is the right way to reveal what is within.

What are you working on now?

Fleshing out the juicy prompt for an old (2016) short story that I found in my mail from an old collaborator. The themes he set out resonate too well now, so I must exhume it somehow. There’s a lot of kaiju. Also I am a few hundred words into crafting my mystical debut novel. Feels like weightlifting.

“Kikelomo Ultrasheen” appears in the March/April 2020 issue of F&SF.

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