Shani Akilah Talks … Debut ‘For Such A Time As This’

Shani Akilah is a Black-British writer from South London of Caribbean heritage …

She is the co-founder of Nyah Network, a book club for black women, and the Bankra platform that explores the identities of black millennials. She holds a Master’s degree in African Studies from Oxford University

Her rich debut short-story collection brings to life the worlds of Black-British Londoners as they explore friendship and romance, community and independence, and navigate their way through the relationships that make them who they are.

We spoke to Shani about her new book …

Please introduce yourself …

My name is Shani Akilah and I’m a Black-British Caribbean writer and screenwriter from South London.

Please share a word or sentence which best describes your life right now.

A dream come true.

What started you on this particular career path?

Five years ago, I met Bernardine Evaristo at my local library in Woolwich, where she was doing a Q&A with my sister Rasheeda Melesse about her novel Girl, Woman, Other. After the session, I asked how I could improve my craft as a writer. Bernardine emphasized the importance of taking courses and suggested I attend her Monologues Masterclass at the community arts hub, Tramshed. In the very first session, I was reminded of how much I loved writing and was overcome with a strong feeling that being a writer was what I was meant to do. I have been committed to becoming a published author ever since.

Tell us about For Such a Time as This

For Such a Time as This is an interconnected short story collection about Black love, friendship, and community during the pandemic years. All the characters are connected in some way and come together in the final story. The book features important topics in the Black community, such as sickle cell, dating, Black male mental health, and Black women’s reproductive health, while also joyously depicting the beauty of Black-British millennial life.

You were also a literary judge for the Nota Bene Prize 2023, at what point of your career does this book find you?

At the moment I am focusing on enjoying the experience of my book being out in the world. I am also touring the country speaking all things For Such a Time as This and engaging with community groups based around a number of themes in the collection.

This is your first book. What was the writing process like? Did you have a routine?

I am a morning person, and a few years ago, I developed a morning practice. I generally wake up at 5 am (shoutout to my 5 am gang), which means I’m usually in bed by 10 pm at the latest. I spend the first hour praying, meditating, and journaling. Then, I read non-fiction for 30 minutes, followed by 30 minutes of fiction. Afterwards, I write for a few hours in 30-minute blocks using the productivity app Forest. I’m a big advocate of compound interest, so even on days when I can’t commit to 2-3 hours of reading and writing, doing just 15 minutes of each four days a week really adds up!

You are the co-founder of the Nyah Network, a book club for Black women. What made you set it up?

At 22, my best friend Elizabeth and I founded a safe space for like-minded Black women in their 20s to connect. We both struggled to build a sisterhood in predominantly white workplaces, and so created a community that organised regular socials, brunches, trips abroad, and staycations. Our shared passion for reading led us to establish a monthly book club focused solely on Black authors. Though the community disbanded in 2022 as our priorities shifted, the bonds we formed have endured. The Nyah Network, particularly the book club, holds a special place in my heart. As a writer, I commemorate this experience in my work as the stories make reference to a Black women’s book club and a character named Niah is a tribute to ‘Nyah.’

Shani Akilah & The Nyah Network

What did you learn about yourself along the journey and are you comfortable being an author – are there more books in you?

I’ve learned that I am incredibly resilient, and I believe not giving up is crucial when aiming to get a book published, as you will face endless rejections. I feel very comfortable being an author—it is the one thing that truly aligns with who I am. Absolutely! There are so many stories inside me that I have yet to tell.


If not this, then what?

That’s a difficult question for me to answer because I feel like I have made the jump from leaving my 9-5 to pursuing my dream of becoming a writer. Maybe ask me that again in a few years!

What are you watching right now?

The Outlaws on BBC iPlayer

What are you reading right now?

I often revisit some of my favourite books to remind me of what’s possible in terms of writing fiction, so I’m rereading The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett (for the third time). Regarding nonfiction, I’m reading Black Liturgies: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations for Staying Human by Cole Arthur Riley.

What are you listening to right now?

I currently have Kiki Sheard’s Tiny Desk Concert on repeat!

The last thing you saw on stage?

Stranger Things – my superstar niece Reya-Nyomi Brown is in the theatre adaptation!

What’s on your bucket list?

Travelling to all of the countries in Africa and the Caribbean

Where’s your happy place?

A beautiful quiet beach

Celebrate someone else (who do you rate right now?)

I was recently interviewed by Sarah Gwonyoma at Waterstones and I think she is an incredible woman who is spreading joy through reading!

Celebrate yourself … (make us proud of you)

I’m proud of myself for having a WHOLE BOOK published and being able to turn some of the most painful experiences in my life into art and also memorialising moments of joy and community.

What’s Next?

I’m working on my first novel and I’m developing a pilot for TV as part of an emerging screenwriters programme with production company Dancing Ledge and being mentored by Camilla Blackett.

Where can we see your latest work?

For Such A Time As This will be available in bookshops and online. To keep up to date with my journey you can follow me @_shaniakilah on Instagram, TikTok and X.


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