On November 17, it was announced that Tolu Oloruntoba has won the Governor General's Literary Award in the Poetry category. Please join us in congratulating Tolu on this incredible accomplishment!
“I am so proud of Tolu and it is wonderful to see him getting the recognition he deserves for his writing. Congratulations Tolu – I'm sure you'll be on cloud nine today!" says Emily Hamilton, director, Partnerships and System Enablers.
The following interview took place prior to the announcement of the award winners.
Tolu Oloruntoba is a senior leader with the Office of Virtual Health
, whose debut poetry collection, The Junta of Happenstance
, is a shortlisted finalist for the Governor General's Award for English-language poetry. Winners will be announced on November 17.
As a youngster in Ibadan, Nigeria, Tolu wanted to be a comic book artist and fantasy author. He began to write poetry at age 16, but a growing commitment to health care led him to study medicine and surgery at the University of Ibadan. He worked as a physician for six years, moved to the United States and completed a Masters Degree in Health Care Management at the Johns Hopkins University.
Prior to joining PHSA as project manager and senior leader of virtual health initiatives, Tolu worked as a consultant and project manager on health technology transformation initiatives including the Future Workspace Project.
How does it feel to have your debut poetry collection nominated for a prestigious Canadian literary award?
It is an incredible honour for any author, perhaps doubly so for a debut author. My feelings are a mixture of bewilderment and gratitude. Having written these poems was their own reward, and I would have been satisfied with having a singular reader. It has therefore been hard to adjust to news I never saw coming, and could not have been prepared for.
You have a breadth of work experience on two continents. How does your experience inspire your writing?
I was a serial migrant until at least three years ago, when I became quite exhausted with moving so frequently. All the cities I’ve lived and worked in have left their residue in me, though. Poetry depends so much upon seeing alternate view points, drawing unusual connections, and exploring one’s humanity as a writer. Living in seven cities in three countries has really deepened my ability to see the sameness of so much of human experience, and the occasionally astounding differences and incongruities that tend to inspire more writing.
Do you have a favourite poem in the collection? Why is it your favourite?
My favourite poem in the collection is “Grove” because it embeds and evokes such a strong sense of place, and time, for me.
You live with your partner and two young children, and have a busy work schedule, yet you carve out time to write poetry. Do you have advice for readers on how to make time to pursue personal interests?
Poetry has been such a renewing force and source of meaning for me, that I find time for it, even if just for a few minutes on most days. As meaning-seeking beings, we’ll tend to make some space and time for interests that enrich our lives. I guess finding things like this makes them less a chore or burden, and more an extension of living.
Learn more about Tolu and his poetry on his website