Tett Interview: Poet & Author Abena Beloved Green

Poet Abena Beloved Green

Poet Abena Beloved Green was planning on interviewing her grandmother, Awo Yaa Baah Kondadu, about her life in Ghana. She wanted to hear her grandmother’s stories – What was it like to grow up in the former Gold Coast (now Ghana) and how did she feel not being able to read English in a British colony? She wanted to learn her grandmother’s recipes, memorized by heart and by taste. She wanted to know everything about her life. Sadly, days before she was to fly out to see her, Abena’s grandmother passed away.

Abena decided then to interview her remaining relatives in Ghana and she expanded the interviews to include her Canadian “aunties” and other interesting women who she had met over the years. Over the span of a year, she interviewed twenty-six women in Ghana and Canada. In response to the interviews, Abena wrote poems and prose that reflected these women’s words and how she saw them.

The interviews and poems are collected in Abena’s new book, Ode to the Unpraised: Stories and Lessons From Women I Know (Pottersfield Press, 2020). Available at Novel Idea Bookstore in Kingston, ON.

Recently, Abena and I met – virtually – to discuss Ode to the Unpraised and the following are a few excerpts from our conversation:

Hello, Abena. Congratulations on the publication of your new book, Ode to the Unpraised: Stories and Lessons from Women I Know!  I just finished reading the book and it struck home. Like you, many of us are interested in hearing and may have even considered recording stories from our eldest living relatives. Perhaps we realize that time may be of the essence as we see loved ones aging but then life gets busy and it’s easy to set that aside for another day. You had planned to interview your grandmother.

Yes, I had been thinking of interviewing my grandmother for a while. At the time, I was working for Canada World Youth and I thought that I was going to be sent to Kenya, but the managers chose instead to send me on contract to Accra, the national capital of Ghana.

While were in Accra, we had a mid-project for the supervisors – a break to see how things were going – and they decided to do something different. Rather than stay in Accra, we would go to the city of Kumasi, which is where my relatives live. So, I was able to go to my grandmother’s house. When I told her that I wanted to interview her, my grandmother said, Okay, finish your work and when you come back, we’ll talk. Before I could come back, she passed away.

Everything had seemed to line up. If hadn’t done this contract, I wouldn’t have seen her at all.


I was sorry that your grandmother passed away before you could interview her. I am glad that you decided to go forward and interview your other relatives living in Ghana.  Do you have many relatives there?

Most of them are in Ghana. All generations – from babies to older people, direct and distant. I interviewed the women in honour of my grandmother.


One of my favourite interviews in Ode to the Unpraised is between you and Ɔkomfor Akosua Addae in the chapter And the Spirit Came Upon Her. I wanted to know more her dreams, the water spirit Nsuo Frapo, her three-year struggle to either surrender to communicating with the spirits or to go crazy, and the path that she eventually chose for herself. Who is Ɔkomfor Akosua Addae?

Ɔkomfor Akosua Addae is a medicine woman and a priestess. If you are a medicine woman, you don’t necessarily have the spiritual influence. She is both. She’ll go in the morning and do her morning rituals and cleaning in a little house in her yard. She’ll ask the spirits for guidance.

She is my mom’s cousin – not through direct lineage as we do in western society. Her son also has that same knowledge. He was there during the interview and contributed to that recording. She is a sweet, mild-looking woman. Gentle, giggly. Oh, you want to know about little old me? I guess I could tell you a few things.

People aren’t really used to delving into themselves, so you have to ask.

When she described being taken by a spirit, I was like Wait, what?! I wish I could have asked her more what exactly she meant. My mom helped me translate into Twi but Ɔkomfor Okasua Addae didn’t go into it more because for her it was a normal thing to do. She did say that it was as if you and I were sitting here, and the spirits came.

She died last year and I’m so glad that I was able to talk to her when I did because if I had waited another year, she would have been gone. That is why I feel it is important to keep that type of knowledge because we have it and it is fascinating.


Was she the first person in the family to be a medicine woman and priestess?

It seemed so. It seemed like a shock and her mom didn’t want that for her. It was a conflict with their church upbringing. It sounded like she was the first to do that.


Is Frapo a religion? No. That was the first time I heard of it. It could be a book on its own! Ghana is very Christian which is why we don’t hear much about this kind of stuff. Everyone kind of knows but they don’t follow it. That is why it was a struggle for Ɔkomfor Akosua Addae. She felt pulled into it.


In your poem, Bloodline, you wonder if her calling to become a priestess and a healer could be passed down through the generations. What if that could have been you?

Yes, I wondered that for a while because I am so interested in nature and plants and what they do in our bodies. Maybe I could have known that better if I was there, in Ghana, and it wasn’t looked down upon.


I want to ask you about your creative process in creating Ode to the Unpraised. Did you have a specific or general idea for the interviews and for the book before you began?

I had a template and my set questions which I changed slightly in between countries and towns, based on what seemed to be more fitting. There are some that I didn’t use but most I did.


What were the women’s reactions when you approached them to see if they would be interested in being interviewed for this book?

Everyone was actually very willing. Some people were nervous. At the beginning it was just an idea. The first person that I interviewed was Manette. I interviewed her in the public library. After her, I had more structured questions. Everyone was gracious and comfortable. I feel lucky because I feel like they gave me a portal and I thought, Why should they? For some of the people I interviewed in Ghana, I gave them a little something in exchange for their time but in Canada, I didn’t.


Over the last year or so, many of us haven’t been able to spend time with our family and friends due to COVID-19, and I think we are missing those deeper conversations. You have good friendships or a shared history with many of the women in the book. Did you know their stories before the interviews?

No, I didn’t. That’s the thing. I know them in different degrees and a lot of the stories I didn’t know. Let’s take Jamie and Berra. I would say their names together as I know them together, and they live next door to one another. I met Jamie when I was 5 or 6 years old, but I never asked her about her life. I knew a little bit through everyday scenarios and interactions, but this was the first time I sat and asked her about herself. Her history was new. I knew Berra a little bit, but I didn’t know her whole story and that was interesting to me, and I knew she would be which is why I asked her. I didn’t know a lot of the women in Ghana, so their stories were new.


In Ode to the Unpraised, you have included the words of each of the women next to your response which are in the forms of prose and poetry. What was their response when they read what you wrote?

I don’t think a lot of them have read it yet. I sent them the final draft before it was published. All the interviews were approved.

The whole process was really difficult for me because I was using other people’s stories and some of them were really sensitive stories. I actually started doing it one way and then it was such a struggle that I had to start all over and rewrite a lot of them because I didn’t know how much liberty I could take with what the women said. I didn’t want to misrepresent what they said but I also wanted to make it artistic in my own way.

Before, there was less of a distinction. I took what they said and tried to make it into a prose or poem. In the second, final version, it was like this is what they said and how they said it – tightened up, of course – and then this is mine. You can see it more clearly.

I then asked each of the women is this accurate, and do you feel comfortable with this? Some of them were good with it and others said, Oh, I know that I said that, but this is really uncomfortable. You need to take this and this and this out. I’m so glad for the process. It was a lot harder than writing my first book because that was all me and I could say whatever I wanted.


During the interviews, the women shared often deeply personal experiences. You wanted them to feel comfortable but to also stay true to your own creative voice. Finding that balance must have been a struggle. To make the women feel okay while also creating a piece of art for you.

Yes, to make it into art. That was struggle but I think that I did it.

Yes, you did. Thank you, Abena.

Abena Beloved Green is an award winning multi-disciplinary artist, dancer and writer. She is a nominee for the 2021 Sheri-D Wilson Golden Beret Award – League of Canadian Poets. She participated in the Kingston Writersfest in 2019. She is a 2017 Canadian Individual Poetry Slam finalist and the 2016 poetry prize winner of the Writer’s Federation of Nova Scotia’s Atlantic Writing Competition (now Nova Writes). Abena’s books include Ode to the Unpraised: Stories and Lessons from Women I know (2020, Pottersfield Press) and The Way We Hold On (2018, Pottersfield Press). Her debut spoken word album Beloved was released in 2014. Abena resides in eastern Ontario with her family.

Instagram: @a_belovedgreen

Interview by Susanna Gordon, Tett Centre Rentals Coordinator