Courtesy of Oyin Sangoyomi ’23
‘Masquerade’ draws from both Nigerian and Greek mythology

When Oyin Sangoyomi ’23 began researching pre-colonial West Africa as part of a personal history project in 2020, she didn’t expect to find inspiration for what would soon become her debut novel. But the more she read, the more she fell in love with medieval Nigerian history. It wasn’t long before a story started to take shape in her head.

The cover of "Masquerade," featuring a drawing of a woman with an elephant.
Masquerade draws inspiration from both Nigerian mythology and the Persephone myth in Greek mythology. The novel is set in a reimagined 15th century West Africa based off the Oyo Empire (one of the most prominent in Yoruba history). It follows the journey of a young woman named Òdòdó, a blacksmith and outcast who rises to power after being kidnapped by the King and forced into marriage. 

“I haven’t seen a lot of African female characters, and I think the ones that I have seen are usually more symbolic than human,” Sangoyomi says. With Òdòdó, Sangoyomi wanted to create a character with more dimension and depth. “I want her to feel real.”

Sangoyomi began her research in 2020, the summer after her freshman year at Princeton. Growing up Nigerian American and attending schools in the U.S., she was primarily taught American and British history. Though always interested in the subject, she wanted to learn more about Africa. But she soon found that the majority of the literature focused on post-colonial Africa, as opposed to true African history.

“I took it upon myself to start researching pre-colonial Nigeria,” Sangoyomi says. After a few months of research, she started writing, inspired by the setting and its rich history. “I was in university at the time, so it became like an additional class.” 

While at Princeton, Sangoyomi majored in English with a certificate in creative writing. Of the courses she took at Princeton, Sangoyomi recalls one as the most influential for her work: African Women Writers, taught by Wendy Belcher, introduced her to a canon of authors who informed her own writing.

“That was my first time reading literature written by African women from the continent,” Sangoyomi recalled. “They were navigating problems that already felt relevant to this character that I dreamed of. I feel like I took a lot of what they had and applied it to [Òdòdó’s] struggles.”

After finishing a first draft in three months, Sangoyomi went through several rounds of revisions, first alone and then with an agent. A few months later, it was picked up by her current editor, with whom Sangoyomi signed a two-book deal. Masquerade, the first of the two, is set for release in July 2024.

“The book was created in isolation during the pandemic, so the story was just mine for so long. But now people are also experiencing it for the first time,” Sangoyomi says. “It’s very surreal.”

Currently based in Brazil, Sangoyomi is working on the second book in the deal she signed with Macmillan/Forge. Though not a sequel, it is also set in medieval West Africa, and it features a woman “determined to do anything to get what she wants,” Sangoyomi says. But while this may be the current project, it is certainly not the last. 

“I hope to be an author for a long time,” Sangoyomi says. “This is just the beginning.”