Always the quiet, observant child, Ayi Renaud Dossavi-Alipoeh remembers fondly his 10th birthday in Lome, Togo.
“It was an occasion for all our friends and family to come together,” Ayi recalls. “My family was relatively poor, but I remember all the meat served at the party. And my father, who was normally very stoic, was so warm and friendly that day.”
Ayi’s father, who wrote poetry in his spare time, was never published, a fact that stays with Ayi.
“It was his work and my interest in writing for my people, for my continent, that inspired me,” Ayi says.
Today Ayi, an award-winning writer and journalist, is working on the second phase of the Emerging Thoughts Project, an initiative aimed at empowering the youth in Togo to develop their literacy skills.
Ayi’s work with the project involves, among other activities, holding creative writing workshops and book talks across the country.
“We want to stress not only the importance of reading and writing but also of what Togo and Africa have contributed to the field of world literature,” he says.
Among Ayi’s inspirations in launching the initiative was the Senegalese historian Cheikh Anta Diop, whose work explored in depth African history in a pre-colonial context.
“It really grounded me,” Ayi says of Diop’s work. “It made me proud of my identity and gave me a sense of purpose.”
What drew Ayi to the scholar, too, was the storied writer’s bravery in exploring difficult issues with elegant prose.
“He taught me that you need to speak the truth no matter what,” Ayi says.
For Ayi, Diop was living proof “that you need to act, to be brave, as a scholar and as an intellectual.”
One challenge Ayi has faced in recent years is garnering funds to pursue his literary projects.
“The process to get published in Togo is extremely complicated,” Ayi says. “I eventually applied for grant funding to finance my work.”
Ayi advises others interested in the literary arts or in any new field to take the first step, daunting as it might be.
“We need action in Africa. Too often, we get paralyzed in our analysis, but we have to take action,” he says.
It’s that resolution that colors Ayi’s work speaking truth to power and putting into words his community’s story.
“For me, that’s what makes a leader,” Ayi explains. “It’s someone who isn’t afraid to say what needs to be said or to do what needs to be done.”
Interested in Ayi’s work? Learn how you can create, innovate, and prosper on the YALIEntrepreneurs page.